The Canadiens couldn't afford to relive last year's nightmare

Julian McKenzie
·NHL Writer
·3 min read
Claude Julien was let go by the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday.  (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
Claude Julien was let go by the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

At the beginning of the month, it was hard to blame the Canadiens for overlooking the Ottawa Senators when Montreal and its league-leading offence split a tightly-contested two-game series with the NHL's worst team.

Near the end of the month, Montreal's performance against those same Senators cost Claude Julien his job, the second time he has been given his walking papers by the Canadiens.

Julien's team began the season on fire, making fans forget about all that went wrong last year: the offensive shortcomings, the less-than-stellar special teams, the pair of eight-game winless streaks and losing all four games against the abysmal Detroit Red Wings. In February, the team from January was nowhere to be found, and all of those bad habits resurfaced.

The Canadiens were no longer lethal offensively, their special teams weren’t sufficient and they took too many penalties. And then of course there were those losses against the Senators, who at the time only had four wins to their name and sat dead last in the NHL standings.

And that was enough for Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin to pull the plug on Julien and assistant Kirk Muller Wednesday and hand the keys over to Dominque Ducharme for at least the remainder of the season.

“The hard thing to watch is the swing from being a really good hockey team that was playing with pace, that was engaged, we were playing to our identity which is speed,” Bergevin said during a press conference on Wednesday. “And then going to the other side to a team that was looking for anything. You know the expression, chasing our tail. We’re chasing the puck. We’re not in sync. And that was frustrating for me.”

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The Canadiens started the month with three wins in their first four games, but have since dropped five of their last six. A team that once averaged more than four goals per game, the Canadiens have reached that mark just once — Tuesday night against the Senators — during their current skid.

“It’s emotional,” Bergevin said. “Because they’re good people. It’s not fun. It’s a tough part of my job. And to walk into these two men’s rooms this morning was not easy.”

Being a general manager in the pressure cooker that is Montreal is far from easy. Bergevin, who joined the Canadiens in 2012 from Chicago, has now moved on to his third coach in hopes of finally delivering a Stanley Cup to a starved and impatient fanbase. Fair or not, expectations have changed for this iteration of the Canadiens due to their unexpected success in the postseason bubble, their offseason spending spree and a 7-1-2 start to the season.

It’s why they shook up the Tomas Tatar-Phillip Danault-Brendan Gallagher line, even scratching Tatar for a game. It’s why fans have been calling on Jake Allen to start more games over Carey Price. It’s why Julien, who couldn’t solve his team's growing deficiencies, is out of a job in favour of Ducharme.

“Dom was my guy from the time I made my decision,” Bergevin said. “The reason why? He’s a new model of (a head) coach. The young coach that came a long way. Had success at the junior level. Had success at the world junior level. I feel that a new voice, that’s what this team needs. Also, he’s a good communicator.”

No pressure, Dom.

His first test will come Thursday night against the Winnipeg Jets, but his task for the rest of the season will be to bring out the best in his players and make everyone forget about the 2019-20 Canadiens.

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