On Tuesday, the Montreal Canadiens announced the firing of head coach Michel Therrien and the hiring of Claude Julien to replace him. While the Canadiens may have a six-point lead in the Atlantic, the team was in need of a boost. After losing six of their last seven games and teams having games in hand on the Habs, something needed to happen during their bye-week. General manager Marc Bergevin did just that by hiring one of the best coaches in the NHL.
Bergevin had high praise for his team’s new coach,
“With his track record he’s a superstar.” said Bergevin after being asked what kind of acquisition Julien is to the team.
Sure, Claude Julien won the Stanley Cup six years ago and has since missed the playoffs in consecutive years with the Boston Bruins. However, he brings a new structured coaching style to the Canadiens. His .603 career winning percentage gives the Habs a coach that knows how to win.
How Julien will help the Habs
To start, Julien has had success at each level of coaching. He has won a championship at all levels, except the AHL where he reached the third round of the playoffs in 2001-02 with the Hamilton Bulldogs. Julien has not had a losing season as an NHL coach since his first season as coach of the Habs. He comes back to the Habs organization for the second time, with more experience. This could prove to be vital in the Canadiens hopes of making a run for the Stanley Cup.
Julien will coach a very defensive style much like Therrien, however, the style lets the players more freedom and less dump and chase. However, Julien said that he won’t change the team’s style very much so that the players don’t feel too much out of place. However, he will likely keep adding more of his style to the team in transition. Therefore, don’t expect major changes to the team’s style this season.
However, expect Julien to shake up the line up to his own preferences. This could very well mean that Shea Weber and Alexei Emelin will be separated. While they have had success earlier in the season, it no longer works as a top pairing. With neither being fast puck-moving defensemen, the top pairing is too slow to have long-term success. Expect Julien to do something to improve the speed of the top pair in Montreal. He could play a player Nathan Beaulieu there full-time, or perhaps Nikita Nesterov. If that does not work out then maybe the Habs will make a trade to feel the need for speed.
More lineup changes Julien should try
Over the last seven games, while the team has struggled the Canadiens have had all their offense generated by the top line. However, it might be best to respread out the offense by breaking up Alexander Radulov and Max Pacioretty. The duo has done a good job together, but they are the only two generating offense regularly.
If Julien wants to spread out the offense, he should stick Radulov back with Alex Galchenyuk in order to get the 23-year old centre going again. Previously, the Radulov-Galchenyuk duo nearly produced at a point per game pace. Which is better than Radulov has put up with Pacioretty. Sure, Galchenyuk has had success in the past with Brendan Gallagher, but it was not to the same extent as it is with Radulov. Gallagher and Pacioretty have also had a fair share of success together and could potentially be successful with Danault.
Julien has already shown his hand, placing Galchenyuk with Radulov and Pacioretty. At Friday’s first practice since their game on Sunday, the lines were:
Pacioretty – Galchenyuk – Radulov
Byron – Plekanec – Gallagher
Lehkonen – Danault – Shaw
Andrighetto – Mitchell – Flynn
#Habs D & G:
Emelin – Weber
Markov – Petry
Beaulieu – Pateryn
The Line Up Changes
For the first time since he returned from his injury for the second time, Galchenyuk will centre the top line. Over the past few weeks, Galchenyuk has not been the same player. However rather than be given the chance to work his way back from injury and gain confidence, he was given less ice time with third line players. In order for him to regain success, he needs to find his confidence again. In order to do so, he needs to play with the team’s top players. That exactly what Julien is doing, expect Galchenyuk to find his game again, over the next week with Pacioretty and Radulov.
As for the second line, Julien is giving a chance to Tomas Plekanec to play in the top six again. Gallagher who is returning from injury could give his centre the boost needed to produce. However, Gallagher has been in an offensive slump most of the season himself. The second line may have some question marks, but Julien will give them a chance. If things do not work out, changes will be made.
Another question is when will Emelin and Weber be split up, they have been slumping as of late. Julien has yet to touch his defensive core, and could end up making some changes if the pairings continue to slump.
MONTREAL, QC – MARCH 29: Alex Galchenyuk #27 of the Montreal Canadiens skates the puck during the warmup prior to the NHL game against the Detroit Red Wings at the Bell Centre on March 29, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Detroit Red Wings 4-3. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)