BOSTON -- Since arriving in Boston after signing as an unrestricted free agent last July, Bruins winger Benoit Pouliot has reiterated how much he appreciates the communication between Bruins coach Claude Julien and his players.
When Pouliot struggled early on this season -- not scoring until his ninth game as a Bruin and looking lost in the Julien’s defensive, two-way system -- Julien wasn’t afraid to communicate what he thought of Pouliot’s game through healthy scratches and reduced playing time. But he also made sure to stress the positives in practice and not throw Pouliot under the bus to the media who questioned the signing of Pouliot, who was drafted fourth overall in the 2005 draft but has played for three teams since then and in the eyes of many has underperformed.
“I think it’s not just me, more than it’s the organization,” Julien said following his team’s fifth straight win, a 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens in which Pouliot scored for the second straight game. “Our scouts that do the pro scouting and [Bruins GM] Peter [Chiarelli] and the rest of that group have obviously seen him. I knew him from watching him play, and I think everybody felt the same way. There was a lot of talent in that young player -- and I say young player because he is a young player in this league, and he was a first-round pick -- and sometimes those guys just need an opportunity. He got it in certain places where probably they didn’t feel that he fit in.
“But we thought that with the type of team that we had, he would be a good fit for a couple of reasons -- good size, good skill, but at the same time, he was a guy that could be physical. Our team is a team that really pushes guys to work hard day in, day out. We have a good group of players, and we felt that if we could get some consistency in this player, he would be a good asset to our hockey club.”
That patience and faith by Julien in Pouliot was never more evident than after the Bruins' 1-0 win at Montreal on Nov. 21. During the second period of that game, Pouliot took two penalties -- one a double-minor for high-sticking -- on consecutive shifts. Thankfully for him and the Bruins, Boston killed the Canadiens’ power plays off and held on for the win.
Pouliot’s shifts declined in the third period, but despite the clamoring by fans and media alike that he return to the press box as a healthy scratch the following game in Buffalo, Julien stuck with him, and Pouliot rewarded his coach by scoring the shootout winner in a 4-3 Bruins win. Since then Pouliot has progressively improved on both ends of the ice, has four game-winning goals, and with his goal Monday he has six lamplighters and two assists in 27 games. Following the game Monday night, Pouliot again referenced the faith and communication from Julien and his teammates as a catalyst for his turnaround.
“It helped a lot,” Pouliot said. “It’s always nice to know what you did right and wrong and even when it’s wrong sometimes, you've got to know. And it’s not just Claude, but all the coaches here. It’s just a matter of letting you know, and that can go a long way and right now it’s helping my game a lot.”
“I was just getting used to everything that was going on down here,” Pouliot said of his tough start. “But obviously playing with [Peverley] and [Kelly] makes things a little easier because they’re two-way players and fast and you make room for them. We’re staying on the same page, we talk a lot and right now the chemistry is pretty good.”
Kelly, who went through a similar transition process last February when he arrived via a trade from Ottawa, is happy to see his linemate proving the critics wrong and praised him for his willingness to learn and adapt to a tight-knit team like the Bruins.
“I think a lot of people were willing to be extremely hard on [Pouliot] when he first came in here and I think people don't realize how difficult it is to come to a new team, never mind a team that just won the Stanley Cup with 18 or 19 returning guys,” Kelly pointed out. “He's playing with new linemates, it’s a new city in a new environment and it’s going to take anyone a little bit of time.
"Obviously he's feeling a lot more comfortable and he's playing great right now. He's scoring big goals and when he scored tonight, I thought, ‘Oh you know, it's going to be the game-winner again’ because that's all he seems to do is score game-winners. He's playing extremely well at both ends, not even just putting the puck in the net, he's playing well in our own end and he's easy to play with as a centerman. Right now it's going well.”
Just as Julien has done, Kelly also made sure to save his linemate from some unwarranted blame he felt Pouliot received for the high-sticking penalty in that Nov. 21 game at Montreal.
“Actually the one penalty he took in Montreal was probably because of my turnover and he took a high stick, so I told him right after that it was on me, it's not his fault,” Kelly said. “For him to keep playing the way he is after that, it's been really good."