An adjustment period for all parties in Montreal under Claude Julien
MONTREAL — Friday’s image of Claude Julien donning Canadiens gear for his first practice in his second tenure with the historic Original Six franchise is still an awkward feeling for many involved.
In reality, that was just another step of the adjustment period for Julien, the Canadiens and Bruins fans.
This isn’t any ordinary Boston to Montreal adjustment – like Dunkin Donuts coffee drinkers and munchkin addicts settling for Tim Horton’s morning brews and Timbits – for all parties involved. For both fan bases, the acceptance of seeing Julien behind the Habs bench is only starting to sink in after the winningest coach in Bruins history was given a five-year deal worth $5 million to return north of the border.
For Julien, the initial challenges of installing his system has been met positively by his new set of players during his first two days. But it’s still going to take some time for all parties to settle in.
“There were a lot of things to cover yesterday [at practice] and there were a lot of things to cover before the game and I was trying to get as much information that I could,” Julien said during his first postgame press conference at the Bell Centre in over a decade. “I’m trying to learn as much about this team as I can in a short period of time as to where we are in the schedule and where we are in the season.”
And there’s the man coaching his first game in two weeks. pic.twitter.com/fCpnhNGuOy
— Bruins Daily (@BruinsDaily) February 18, 2017
Julien’s Game 1 result – and Game No. 59 for the Habs – was a 3-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. The loss came exactly two weeks removed from the Bruins’ 6-5 ouster to the Maple Leafs in what turned out to be Julien’s final game at TD Garden. Six days removed from Michel Therrien’s last game, a 4-0 win for Bruce Cassidy’s bunch during another snowstorm in New England.
Part of Saturday’s outcome from the Montreal perspective was overcoming the usual rust that comes with the territory following the bye week.
Another part involved Julien’s new set of players hoping to make a good first impression. Some, like Alex Galchenyuk, initially left a good mark after driving hard to the net to open up space for Andrei Markov’s fourth of the year at 11:04. Gradually, though, Galchenyuk started to get too cute – a no-no under Julien during his Boston tenure – and found himself demoted to the third line. Others, like Nathan Beaulieu, had to overcome a gaffe that led to Marko Dano’s shorthanded tally at 4:52 of the middle stanza but gradually got better as he looked to redeem himself.
“He’s seen all of us in here as opponents and now it’s a matter of [execution],” Habs defenseman Jeff Petry said. “Yeah, you want to impress somebody, but you don’t want to alter your game because of it, and, you know, I think it was just a matter of not executing properly and I think that was [the difference].”
At the very least, Carey Price was back on track. With the week off, the 2015 Hart and Vezina Trophy winner was well-rested and looked sharp all afternoon stopping 30 of 32 shots – excluding Patrik Laine’s empty netter at 18:43 of the third.
Though he’ll also have some time to adjust, the bigger concern for Julien, Price and his fellow peers is for him to be his usual self.
“It’s going to be tough to learn a whole new playbook right off the get-go,” Price said.
“Me personally?” Price questioned when a Montreal reporter asked whether or not he’ll have to make changes to his routine, “I don’t think so, I think I just need to focus on stopping the puck,” he added with a chuckle.
Julien’s biggest challenge long-term isn’t so much about Price as it is helping the Habs in their search for confidence. Since January 1, the Canadiens are 9-11-2. They have also dropped seven of their last eight dating back to the beginning of February.
The Habs’ freefall has given teams some hope to surpass them in the Atlantic. Only eight points separate the Bleu Blanc et Rouge from the Panthers and Sabres, who are tied with 62 points. Four of the five teams beneath Montreal have games in hand, including the Bruins (64 points), who return from their bye week on Sunday. The Senators (66 points) and Maple Leafs (63 points), will have three and two games in hand, respectively, following their Hockey Night in Canada tilt tonight.
Through the learning process, the Habs know they have to regain some confidence all while learning a new system under Julien.
“I think this is a much better team than you say today [against Winnipeg] and they will be better. Again, I can use examples of last year with Pittsburgh where a new coach comes in and, you know, struggles for a little while until he gets things into place. I need to get some things that I’d like to see into play, and hopefully, things turn around and maybe we’ll get the same result,” Julien said.
“There were a lot of things that I was able to see and you can’t see until you put into a game situation, so I’ll take that as a constructive afternoon for me.”