Claude Julien (Photo by Martin Chevalier/ Agence QMI)

by Trege Wilson, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

The Montreal Canadiens quieted the masses just a little with a 5-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday.

But memories still linger about the horrendous western road trip through California where they lost all three games with a total of four goals for and 16 goals against. The Habs limped back to Montreal having lost seven straight games. Even with this week’s two points, they are still the second worst team in the NHL.

Statistically, they are at the bottom of the league in scoring averaging only 1.89 goals per game (with the Oilers at 1.88.) They are 29th in goals against with a 3.78 average.

Special teams don’t look much better. The Habs are 26th in the league on the power-play with a 13.9 per cent success rate. Montreal finds themselves 22nd on the penalty-kill with an efficiency 78.1 per cent. On a positive note, they are first in the league in shots  averaging 38.2 per game, and 13th in shots against allowing 32.1 per game.

Fans are panicking and want a major move to right the ship. Some are screaming for Marc Bergevin’s head, others want every player traded including Carey Price. The only members of the organization who have been seemingly given a pass is the coaching staff.

While everyone is consumed with Bergevin’s actions, I believe that coaching has been a major issue with the team. Now, when Michel Therrien was fired, I will admit I was happy, I was never a fan even during his first stint in Montreal and wasn’t impressed when he was re-hired. But it’s hard to argue with the results over his last few seasons.

When Julien was hired, I was ecstatic. I was convinced that he was the right guy to lead the Canadiens. I had full confidence in him.

When the playoffs started last spring, the Habs played with grit and determination. In my view, they ran into some bad luck and a hot goalie. In six games, the promising season was over.

I just couldn’t blame the early exit on the coach.

In the off-season, Bergevin revamped the defense. He claimed that the Canadiens rearguards were, as a group, much improved this season. I agreed and wrote about it here.  On paper, the defence should be better.

The Canadiens won their season opener after an outstanding performance by Carey Price in Buffalo. My hope was high. Then it all came crashing down.

To me, this doesn’t fall on the GM, as he can’t control the play from his lineup. In my opinion, that’s on the coaching staff.

Most games, a pattern has emerged. The Canadiens get down early, fight back, a bad luck goal, then the team disappears. They haven’t been able to sustain high tempo play for entire 60 minutes yet.

The power-play moves the puck well at times but has just become just that something that looks good but doesn’t actually accomplish anything. They have outshot their opponents in the majority of the games this season yet can’t seem to put the puck in the net. The defense can’t seem to clear the zone, turning over the puck at the wrong time, in the wrong spot. Carey Price, the goaltending god of hockey, hasn’t been able to overcome the multitude of errors in the Habs zone.

What bothers me is that, like Therrien before him, coach Julien seems unable to make the adjustments necessary to address any of the issues his team is experiencing. In fact, some of his lineup choices have made problems worse.

What was Ales Hemsky doing getting top-six minutes and power play time while racking up penalty minutes and not being able to make a sound hockey play? Hemsky is presently out of the lineup with an injury. Would he still be playing (poorly) on the first or second line if he remained healthy? Meanwhile, Torrey Mitchell sits in the press box while leading the team in face-off percentage.

The defence has been a major issue all season. When Julien has inserted Mark Streit or Joe Morrow bad things have happened. Brandon Davidson has been mediocre but the best of several bad options. 

The most glaring example of questionable usage by Julien is with Alex Galchenyuk. This player has all the talent in the world and should be a top-six forward. Instead the coach is fond of burying him on the third and fourth line reportedly so Galchenyuk can get his confidence back.

On some level, I can understand the approach. But here is a player who is capable of being a 30-goal scorer. Galchenyuk has already had his centre job taken away, being converted into a winger, and has been told he needs to play better defensively. Given his age and skill, he should just be allowed to play. His confidence will grow as he scores.

Player agent Dan Milstein posted a message to his Twitter account openly critical of Julien that read, “Alex Galchenyuk isn’t a problem but coach is. Has never successfully coached Russian. Took midseason most-Russian club. All but one Russian gone.”

The tweet has been deleted from his account.

When asked for comment by Sportsnet, Milstein replied, “I have nothing but respect for  Marc Bergevin. But it seems obvious the coach doesn’t like Russians.”

I understand it takes time to build chemistry and get lines going. The glaring issue is the fragile nature of this year’s edition of the Canadiens. The team is wound very tight and mistakes are compounded.

This team is a ticking time bomb. In my opinion, the coaches are responsible to defuse the situation. Time is running out.

3 COMMENTS

  1. [received by email]

    dear trege wilson,
    i read your thoughts about coach julien,
    i think you have it all wrong.
    julien is a very good coach.
    2 stanley cup finals with boston(a team of plumbers/average talent-skill,)
    1 victory,in vancouver,game 7.that is coaching…
    could have won the 2nd one as well,
    with a little luck.
    anyhow,
    keep the faith,
    mr.bergevin will soon be submitting his letter of demission to mr.geoff molson.
    until then,
    bye for now,
    portez-vous bien
    le petit bill,ottawa-gatineau

  2. I have respect for Julien;byt, as an armchair quarterback, I do question a few moves. I agree that the Hemsky usage was very questionable. However, signing him, period, was not just questionable, but very poor player assessment. That’s on.Bergevin.his usage of Galchenyuk is also very suspect, and gives some credence to Millstein’s comments. Galchenyuk has been jerked around mercilessly by the brass. You tell him he’ll never be a centre; and then, for good measure, just in case he has a shred of confidence left, you put him on the 4th line…..to build his confidence! What a pile of bullshit! Try encouraging the kid for once! Yes, more is expected 9f him. But this is not the way you draw it out! Try playing to his strengthes for once! He was handling the 1C just fine before his injury…..in fact, thriving! But they’re just too arrogant and stubborn to admit they’re wrong! Julien is nit going to contradict his boss….the memory of having been canned is too fresh! However, I would suggest that JJ Daignault needs to go. Bergevin’s buddies in this coterie of nepotism need to go!! Reach out to Robinson….please!

  3. Watching all the games so far this yr it looks to me like they back to dump and chase. Charge the net and hope for a rebound. Watching Byron he finds open ice in tight areas which IMO is different than standing on top of the blue paint and try to bang the puck through the goalie. Pretty much most of the shots last night were low. No cross ice movement for goalies and nothing upstairs. Just sit there in the butterfly.Lots of shots but no real quality scoring chances IMO.

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