Claude Julien doesn’t know why the referees are stopping them from fighting. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)
For the third game in a row, this one a 3-1 win over the rival Sabres in a New Year’s Eve matinee, the Bruins were denied a fight.
This time it did not involve Adam McQuaid getting his arms pinned down for some punches to the face. Instead it was Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller and Sabres winger Evander Kane who were not allowed at one another before the referees got involved, and put any hope of a fight to rest with a 10-minute misconduct handed down to Kane.
The TD Garden crowd, a 17,565-person mob that’s never come across a hockey fight they didn’t want to watch, voiced their displeasure.
But the obvious question: Why is this happening again and again?
“I don’t [know why],” Julien said. “We haven’t had a memo saying, ‘We’re doing this,’ or, ‘We’re doing that,’ and that’s probably something for someone else to answer. Maybe they’re trying to avoid scuffles.”
Saturday was not at bad as Thursday, no, but it still didn’t leave any member of the Bruins with a particularly great taste in their mouth given what’s happened in their recent bids to drop the gloves.
“What happened with [Adam McQuaid] was not a good thing,” Miller, who has had incidents with Kane in three of the four head-to-heads between the Bruins and Sabres this year but zero fights, said. “That’s pretty much all I’m going to say about that. Today I think was a little bit different. I think [Kane] was excited to fight when the referees came in and not before.”
Kane’s false bravado or not, the referees still did not let the two even come close to fighting.
“They talk about concussions, maybe they’re mandated [to break up fights]. I don’t know,” Julien, the league’s longest tenured coach in his current city, said, trying to figure out an answer to the not-officially-declared-but-clearly-obvious ban on fighting. “I’m speaking out of just maybe thinking of what I’m seeing, maybe they’re trying to avoid those things. There’s concussions that happen from fights, so if they can step in there quickly, I guess their mandate is to try and avoid those things. I have no idea. Somebody else is definitely in a better position than I am to answer those questions.”
It’s a new world for Julien’s group, too, especially for a B’s club that’s ranked in the top half of the league in fighting majors in seven out of Julien’s nine years in town, and on pace to make it eight in ten years at this rate (unless the refs stop them entirely).
“If we don’t evolve with the game, we get pushed out. That’s for coaches, that’s for players, and the game’s evolving all the time, and it’s changing,” Julien admitted. “I’d say evolving, it can be changing, use the word you want, and for some reason, it seems like fighting doesn’t seem to be quite as popular, or seen as much as it used to. Whether it’s the players coming up that are doing it less, whether it’s because of concussions, whether it’s because they don’t want it in the game anymore, for whatever reason.”
The evolution has been one that’s been most teams are finally coming around to — it’s hard to find teams that dress a pure enforcer these days — and one that forced teams like the Bruins to look elsewhere for that one moment that can give a sluggish/struggling/losing team the game-changing momentum swings coaches crave.
“You have to adapt, but if you ask me about tonight, I still think there was a lot of emotion,” Julien continued. “There was a lot of push and shove, and it’s not like it was anything that lacked. But at the same time, I think especially in Boston, this is a blue-collar town that would like this team when it stood up for itself, and I think it takes away some of that from our hockey club.”
“I think you can still have the physical play,” McQuaid said. “The last few games have certainly been physical games aside from – emotions run high and maybe where the result used to be more fighting, now it’s not so much.
“But, it’s still that physical play and you can still feed off of that.”
That form of physicality is not exactly something the fans in one of America’s oldest hockey cities have not adjusted to just yet.