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Saturday, 18 February 2017

Not Like Last Time

Claude Julien was back in the NHL today with his new team as the Montreal Canadiens hosted the Winnipeg Jets. Julien has had one full practice with his team thus far so I don't expect the Canadiens to pull out of their floundering ways, but a coaching change usually puts a little jump into each player's step as they try to impress the new coach. There's a big difference between a .500 Canadiens team in 2003 and a division-leading team in 2017, but in watching this Canadiens team it is clear they need a different voice.

I don't know if Julien can stop the flat-lining that this team seems to be going through, but watching them today against the Jets was like watching a team in disarray. They started strong, but they looked awful by the end of the game. Shea Weber doesn't look anything like his normal, dominant self. Gallagher, Pacioretty, Galchenyuk, and Radulov seem to be going through the motions when it comes to generating offence, and Carey Price isn't getting a lot of help from the rest of the defence. In short, this team looks a lot like a Michel Therrien team after a number of years.

The one thing that Julien will do is bring accountability to his players just as he demanded in Boston of his players there. No one will get a free ride when it comes to hard work, puck battles, and races to loose pucks. That's just how it is with Julien. If you don't like it as a player, you might as well have La-Z-Boy drop off a recliner in the press box because Julien will have none of it.

In saying this, players like Shaw and Gallagher will be given more responsibility when it comes to their pest-like play, but they'll still be expected to contribute much in the same vein that Brad Marchand was allowed to evolve in Boston's system. Shaw's penchant for temper tantrums and suspensions won't be tolerated by Julien, but it will be expected that he plays tough-as-nails on the opposition. Gallagher will still get his minutes, but he can't rest on the fact that he's a non-scoring pest. He'll need to bring some offence in Julien's systems.

As of right now, I'd say that David Desharnais, Alexei Emelin, and Torrey Mitchell are fighting for their jobs. All three are underperforming based on what Julien will need out of them, and that's not good. If these three cannot find some sort of effective role within Julien's system, I can see all three being dangled as trade bait when the trade deadline rolls around this year.

Overall, the changes will come. Julien will make the Canadiens a better squad overall, but one practice won't do much as we saw today. Julien started his Montreal coaching gig in 2003 with three wins and two ties in five games, but his second stint started with a lifeless 3-1 loss to the Jets. Expect that to change before the end of the month.

If it doesn't, the personnel will change.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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