New coach Julien says tighter defence, more puck possession, will improve Habs attack

Julien: better defence will spark Habs attack

BROSSARD, Que. — They skated hard, battled and worked, and that’s just how new coach Claude Julien wants the Montreal Canadiens’ practices to be.

Julien finally got to put the Canadiens through a full workout with no distractions on Monday. It was aimed mostly at convincing his struggling team that tighter defence will lead to more scoring chances on attack.

“He wanted it to be 40 minutes of high pace, high intensity, so when it comes to game time it’s second nature,” said defenceman Jeff Petry.

Julien, who replaced Michel Therrien last week, will be seeking a first victory since returning to Montreal when the Canadiens face the Rangers in New York on Tuesday night. His debut saw the club fall 3-1 at home to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.

He had only one practice with the team before his first game and it was something of a circus, with fans jammed into the viewing areas at the team’s suburban training centre and two all-sports television stations covering the event live. Another practice Sunday at the Bell Centre was a promotional event in front of 10,000 shrieking kids.

It added to the challenge for Julien to put into effect the changes he hopes will snap the Canadiens out of a 1-6-1 slump in which they have scored only 10 goals, four of them by captain Max Pacioretty and another two from his linemate Alexander Radulov.

Julien wants his team to spend less time in its own zone and more time harrying opposition goaltenders. That starts with getting the puck more quickly on defence and holding onto it longer in the opponent’s end. 

“What we want to try to do, and what we did today, is to try to be better defensively for goals against and chances against,” he said. “But more than that, if we’re better defensively we can (get) the puck quickly.

“I want us to play with the puck, not without it. I’m looking for puck possession time. It’s not necessarily about analytics, it’s that if we have the puck more, our chances are much better of winning.”

It’s a formula that worked for most of the 10 seasons Julien spent with the Boston Bruins before he was replaced by Bruce Cassidy two weeks ago. Boston won a Stanley Cup and reached a final during his time there, although they fell short of a playoff spot the last two seasons.

The Canadiens started the season 13-1-1 and maintained a decent record despite a run of injuries through December and January, but hit a wall of late. That prompted general manager Marc Bergevin to fire fifth-year coach Therrien and bring in Julien, whose first NHL coaching job was with the Canadiens from 2003 to 2006.

There is much that needs fixing. The Canadiens have got no goals and not even many scoring chances or sustained offensive zone pressure from their second, third or fourth lines in the last eight games. They’ve also been lax defensively and at times had spotty goaltending, although Carey Price was sharp against the Jets.

“We’ve got enough skill here, (the offence) will come back,” said Julien. “I’m not worried about it.

“We have enough players on this team that can score goals, but we’ve got to start in the right place and that’s when we get the puck back quickly. It remains to be seen, but that’s my belief.”

What he hasn’t had enough time for yet is to work on line combinations. Mostly, he has used the units Therrien had in place. He moved Alex Galchenyuk to centre on the first line to start against Winnipeg but had Phillip Danault back in that spot by the third period. Now Galchenyuk is back to the second line with Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron.

“I know he’s a very talented player; my job is to make him better,” Julien said of Galchenyuk. “Now I want to work with him on the little aspects of the game that will make him even better.”

The slump has narrowed the Canadiens lead in the Atlantic Division to only two points ahead of Ottawa, who have two games in hand.

“It’s what happens when you don’t win games,” said Gallagher. “Everyone else in the league seems to be winning except for us and they’re gaining ground.

“If we get back to playing winning hockey, playing our style and doing all the little things Claude and his staff are trying to get across, then we’ll be where we want to be.”

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Update: Two West Kelowna homes gutted by fire

Family cat saved by firefighters

Ash falling in the Okanagan

Reports on social media of ashes on cars around the Okanagan

Temporary smoke relief in sight for Kelowna

Kelowna is expected to see a break in smoke until tomorrow afternoon

Kelowna developer warns home buyers to look at more than the price tag

Kelowna developer Jeffrey Anderson wants first-time homeowners to look at more than the price tag.

Canadian Armed Forces assist with mop-up of fire near West Kelowna

100 Armed Forces members are helping BC Wildfire crews with the Gottfriedson Mountain fire

B.C. wildfires 2018: Hazy skies impacting crews in spotting new fires

18,000 people are on an evacuation alert, with 3,000 homes under an evacuation order

Snowy Mountain fire travelling away from communities

The Snowy Mountain fire near Keremeos remains at 13,359 hectares in size

Minister optimistic after 2 days of Columbia River Treaty negotiations

Canadian and U.S. officials met in Nelson Wednesday and Thursday to discuss future of the treaty

Man dies in B.C. police cell while awaiting court hearing

An independent investigation is underway after a man died while in Penticton police custody Aug. 16

RCMP appeal for tips, dashcam footage in German tourist shooting west of Calgary

The Durango crashed into the ditch after the shooting near the Goodstoney Rodeo Centre

2 nurses attacked at B.C. psych hospital, union calls for in-unit security

PHSA says that in-unit guards would do more harm than good

Former Shuswap optician won’t be jailed for sexually assaulting minor

Kenneth Pilkington sentenced to 24 months’ probation for offence three decades ago

Osland to make LPGA Tour debut

Kelowna’s Megan Osland has earned an exemption into next week’s CP Women’s Open in Regina.

Red Cross now accepting donations for those impacted by B.C. wildfires

The Canadian Red Cross is asking for help now and in the weeks and months ahead.

Most Read