In something of a tailspin after a blazing start to the season, Marc Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens have responded with a major move.
Montreal announced Wednesday that head coach Claude Julien has been fired and replaced on an interim basis by assistant head coach and former Team Canada bench boss at the world junior championship, Dominique Ducharme.
The move, which includes the decision to also release assistant Kirk Muller and promote Alex Burrows from AHL Laval, comes after a consecutive loss to the last-place Ottawa Senators — Montreal’s fourth defeat in its last five games.
Renaud Lavoie reports that the decision was not made based on Tuesday night’s result.
While the Canadiens have tumbled from the perch in the North Division down to fourth with only two wins in their last eight games, this is a bit of a curious decision. Looking at the balance of the season, the Canadiens have been one of, if not, the most dominant even-strength teams in the league, owning shot share and boasting a brilliant 42-25 5-on-5 goal differential.
Since beating the Vancouver Canucks four times over a six-game stretch that also included a split with the Calgary Flames, the 5-on-5 foundation hasn’t crumbled. What has been an issue in the eight games since tearing the Canucks limb from limb over four nights is the work of the power play and penalty kill. Montreal has been outscored 8-2 in special-teams scenarios over this eight-game sample, while seeing its shooting percentage dive into seventh-worst in the league.
Now, this isn’t to excuse Julien, or suggest that everything that has gone wrong of late has been purely luck-based, but you would expect these numbers to even out over time. And if they had the opportunity to, the Canadiens would likely find themselves performing somewhere in the middle between the dominant team it was out of the gates, and the one struggling right now.
On the other hand, this could be more than just a knee-jerk reaction. It’s possible that Bergevin’s expectations for how the team would perform aren’t being met, either tactically or just simply through performance.
This is the second time Julien has been let go while driving impressive performance results based on shots and expectations. The Boston Bruins were a dominant shot-share team with the worst even-strength shooting rate and highest expected goals percentage when he was let go in 2017.
The Bruins have more wins than all but one team in the NHL since letting Julien go.
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