With Michel Therrien being relieved of his duties as head coach, Claude Julien steps in and can bring immediate change for the the Montreal Canadiens. While Therrien saw mixed success in terms of playoff berths and wins, the team’s goaltending was often seen as the reason for the team’s success.
In Boston, Julien reached the mountain top in 2011 when he won a Stanley Cup and just two years later pushed the Chicago Blackhawks in another Finals appearance. He also has previous experience in the Montreal market, being a former head coach of the team from 2002 to 2006.
However, there’s more than just intangibles that Julien brings to the table. Since he took over in Boston during the 2007-2008 season the Bruins are fifth in the NHL in score-adjusted Corsi (shot attempts towards net, adjusted for the score) at 52.63%, by comparison in that same stretch Montreal is 18th, at 49.45%.
Julien’s tenure in Boston came to an abrupt, almost unfair end one week ago as the Bruins struggled to put together consistent stretches of play. The Bruins were winning the possession battle most nights, but with a patchwork defence and poor luck, Julien took the fall.
Of course, that shouldn’t have been a surprise. It is rumoured that if Montreal had beat Boston in overtime of Game Seven in 2011, he would have been fired.
Instead, he won a Stanley Cup.
The Bruins had a CF% of 55.44% despite their blue line being led by an aging Zdeno Chara, and rookie in Brandon Carlo. Julien took a team that many predicted would be at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and had them playing dominant possession hockey, albeit it undone by bad luck.
So how does this help Montreal? Despite a hot stretch to start the year and a few weeks of solid play, the Canadiens this year have been solidly out played for the majority of this season. Montreal sits at a 52.79 CF%, which isn’t terrible but during their run of poor form, they’ve been struggling to produce shots and limit scoring chances against.
Even Carey Price who is an all-world goalie is struggling to keep up with the chances against and the team isn’t able to put the puck in the net, especially on the penalty kill.
Bringing in Julien’s ability to play a system that limits the chances against, with better personnel than he had in Boston is something that should benefit the entire team.
The offence has been slumping as well. Under Julien in Boston, players like Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and David Krejci have flourished and become dominant scoring forwards, while Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo have played huge roles for the Bruins.
With the amount of talent in Montreal’s forward group, the use of dump and chase hockey failed to utilize their skills properly. With a possible emphasis on carrying the puck out of the zone and not just chucking it up ice it’s probable that slumping talents like Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Plekanec can regain at least part of their prime form.
Also of note is the how Montreal’s special teams have fared this season, the penalty kill in particular. Montreal’s PK is ranked 22nd in the NHL at 79.4%, was leaking high danger chances against, and has been the key to Price’s struggles.
On the flip side Boston’s ranked number one at 86.3%, which means the Habs new coach might be able to bring the knowledge capable of fixing one of the team’s fatal flaws this year.
There are a lot of major changes coming to Montreal with Claude Julien’s hire, and they all serve to make Montreal into the contender this team should be. The removal of a dated dump and chase system, and replacing it with a more modern possession style is going to bolster the Canadiens star players. While a new defensive game plan is there to help out the best goalie in the world, in addition to a sagging penalty kill.
Julien is not guaranteed to fix all of Montreal’s problems, but Marc Bergevin is putting his team in the best position to succeed. And frankly, considering how rare it is to have a qualified and successful coach on the market, he had no choice but to strike while the iron was hot. Claude Julien was one of the only men available who could handle this market and fan base, again. In fact, it was likely his availability that raised the urgency to make a change.