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Claude Julien and Goaltending: Luckiest Coach Ever

Claude Julien's gripes may have you believe he's got trouble between the pipes, but the Bruins' coach has been unbelievably fortunate in the goaltending department for his entire career.

Disappointment with his goalie, or indigestion?
Disappointment with his goalie, or indigestion?
Jim Rogash

Shortly after Saturday's dispiriting loss in an emotion-fueled game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, coach Claude Julien called his starting netminder on the carpet, the second time this season he's publicly done so.

"You're not going to point the finger," Julien said, pointing the finger Saturday afternoon, "but your goaltender's got to make some saves, too, at the right time. He knows he's got to have those. I'm not just pointing at him, but he's got to be better."

After a late March loss to Winnipeg, Julien griped that "you need timely saves there and we didn't get it," placing the loss in a game where the Bruins squandered a 1-0 lead and failed to add anything else on the scoreboard squarely on the back of his netminder. To which Rask responded, "I'm not blaming myself for those goals. But still, we're up 1-0, and it would be nice to at least get a point out of that. But I don't think I've been awful if that's what you're trying to say."

Rask has changed his defiant tune and accepted blame for the more recent loss, but the validity of that blame remains questionable considering he'd posted a .938 ESSV during Saturday's penalty-laden game. He followed it up with a shutout in yesterday's action.

It seems a bit barmy to complain about goaltending when your starter is jockeying in a two horse race for the Vezina trophy and your team is on pace for their best record since 2008-2009 in spite of much lower goal output, but perhaps Julien's disappointed that he's getting mere award-winning numbers and not the historic figures of Rask's predecessor. Going back a bit further, it turns out Coach may have no earthly idea of what bad goaltending is at all.

Lets take a gander at his coaching career and see what he's had between the pipes to kvetch about:

2000-2001 HAM(AHL) Joaquin Gage 37 3.33 .905
2001-2002 HAM(AHL) Mark Lamonthe 45 2.38 .918
2001-2002 HAM(AHL) Ty Conklin 37 2.61 .916
2002-2003* HAM(AHL) Ty Conklin 38 2.55 .914
2002-2003* HAM(AHL) Eric Fichaud 27 2.28 .925
2002-2003* MTL Jose Theodore 57 2.90 .908
2003-2004 MTL Jose Theodore 67 2.27 .919
2005-2006* MTL Cristobal Huet 36 2.20 .929
2005-2006* MTL Jose Theodore 38 3.46 .881
2006-2007 NJD Martin Brodeur (duh) 78 2.18 .922
2007-2008 BOS Tim Thomas 57 2.44 .921
2008-2009 BOS Tim Thomas 54 2.10 9.33
2009-2010 BOS Tuukka Rask 45 1.97 .931
2009-2010 BOS Tim Thomas 43 2.56 .915
2010-2011 BOS Tim Thomas 57 2.00 .938
2011-2012 BOS Tim Thomas 59 2.36 .920
2012-2013 BOS Tuukka Rask 31 2.02 .927

*= partial season, bold=vezina

Here we see that in his ten season NHL career, Claude Julien's had some spectacular netminding. He's practically the Forrest Gump of the Vezina trophy. He was fortunate to take over the Canadiens behind the prior year's winner Jose Theodore, he took over a New Jersey bench with perennial Vezina lock Martin Brodeur and the Boston job two years after Thomas emerged from obscurity with a .917 campaign behind a post-Thornton train wreck. We know what happened after that. Tuukka looks to be next unless Sergei Bobrovsky carries the Blue Jackets into the post-season and wins the hearts and minds of league's GMs. At least Rask can count on Holmgren's vote.

Claude Julien hasn't witnessed a starter with lower than .920 since the 05-06 collapse of Jose Theodore. In fact, his fireable offense is probably playing Jose over Cristobal Huet, who had good (.916) if fluctuating numbers in scant games in support of Three-or-More under Julien and rebounded for a .929 season under Gainey. Beyond this, the Bruins bench boss has not seen anything sub-.919 since his first year on the job. This first partial season, filling in after Michel Therien's shitcanning, also happens to be the only time in Julien's entire tenure behind an NHL bench that he has had a goaltender register a save percentage below that year's league average - and in this instance a statistically insignificant .001 below the average.

Going back to his AHL days, his goaltenders didn't look to shabby either. Conklin, Fichaud and Lamonthe all posted numbers that would translate to above NHL league average according to EOTP's work on AHL to NHL Save Percentage translation.

Unfortunately, there's not much we can do to evaluate Claude Julien's coaching independent of team conditions. Looking at the goalies in question year to year, Brodeur and Thomas jumped from .911 to .922 and .905 to .921 respectively. Could this be the "Julien bump"? Theodore however went from a trophy worthy .931 to either .908 or .919 depending on whether you look at partial or full Julien seasons. I also glanced at shot count, though I'm not of the belief that defense can be wholly measured in shot differential. It does show that for Boston, SA dropped by 3 per game, New Jersey by .9 and Montreal (comparing full Therien to the full Julien season) by 3.1. Inconclusive, but it's on the books that shots have dropped, if very modestly, when Julien steps behind the bench. The PK numbers are less conclusive still. Percentages fell for the worse in both Boston and Montreal by around 3%, while rising the same in NJ - both of which are entirely likely just normal year to year variations rather than any coaching influence.

While there are hints that Julien's defense-first system may improve conditions for goalies, the evidence one way or the other can both be construed as rather circumstantial. Essentially, we're left with a conundrum: