Claude Julien hopes to 'create some pride' in struggling Canadiens
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MONTREAL — Claude Julien says his first goal as the new Montreal Canadiens coach will be to "create some pride" in the slumping club as he returns behind the bench.
But Julien, who was hired Tuesday to replace Michel Therrien, said he plans to "fix and tweak" the team's play, rather than make drastic changes, to guide it back to winning ways.
"We're going to play as a team, we're going to play with some pace, we're going to create some pride in all aspects of our game," he told reporters in a conference call from Boston. "All the other adjustments system-wise, I'm going make them, but you can't come in the middle of the season and change everything."
The Canadiens opened the season with a 13-1-1 mark but have been listless over the last two months and have a 2-6-1 record in their last nine games.
There was fear of another collapse like last season, when the club was in first place but went on to miss the playoffs after star goalie Carey Price was injured.
Julien said his contract is for five years after the end of this season. It's his second tour with the Canadiens, the team he coached from 2003 to 2006.
He said his original plan after being fired by the Boston Bruins last week in his 10th season as the team's coach was to wait until the spring before thinking of his future.
That all changed when he received a call from Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, with whom he said he felt a "strong connection."
"He's a good manager, a good man and it's important for me to work for good people," he said. "I also spoke to Mr. (Canadiens owner Geoff) Molson and I realize I'm going to a good organization."
Bergevin, who held a news conference earlier in the day, was quick to praise his new hire as a "superstar." Julien led the Bruins to a Stanley Cup title in 2011 and also reached the Cup final in 2013.
"He's the right man for the situation and for the long-term," Bergevin said at the Canadiens' practice facility in Montreal-area Brossard. "It's a home run."
And despite the speed with which the deal was reached, Bergevin said the decision to fire Therrien was based on Montreal's results and not on Julien's availability.
"There was something missing," he said. "The team performance showed there was something not right and the change had to be made."
Bergevin said he doesn't believe the rumours that Therrien had lost the confidence of Price — speculation that began Dec. 16 when the Canadiens goaltender appeared to stare down the bench at Therrien after being pulled during a 4-2 loss to San Jose.
"I don't think so, that's not what I believe, but the only one who could answer that is Carey," Bergevin said.
Julien praised his new team and especially Price, who he called "the best goalie in the world." He said the club is solid on the back end but needs help with scoring.
"There's a lot of talent up front and that talent has been a bit dried up in terms of scoring and we need to fix that," he said.
Julien and Bergevin both implied other major changes aren't in the plans right now, with the incoming coach saying he would keep the rest of the coaching staff intact for at least the rest of the season.
For his part, Bergevin made it clear he wasn't prepared to trade away top young prospects, such as Mikhail Sergachev, for a "quick fix" before the March 1 trade deadline.
Bergevin also praised outgoing Therrien as a battler who gave his all to the Canadiens in his second stint as coach of the team.
"Michel and I worked very closely together over the past five years," he said. "We fought some big battles and experienced strong emotions together ... our working relationship has always been marked by intensity, sincerity and emotion and our meeting yesterday (Tuesday) was no different.
This is the second time Julien has replaced Therrien as coach in Montreal. The latter's first stint with Montreal from 2000-03 ended when Julien stepped in.
Julien is to run his first practice Friday afternoon and coach the next day in a matinee against the visiting Winnipeg Jets. The native of Orleans, Ont., is to work his 1,000th NHL game Feb. 23 against the New York Islanders.