Canadiens become first team to make coaching change by firing Julien

In a big shakeup, the Canadiens announced this morning that they’d relieved head coach Claude Julien and assistant Kirk Muller.

Julien becomes the second ever Montreal coach to be fired twice. The other is Michel Therrien, who Julien replaced for the second time. How’s that for consistency? Of the two, Julien has been the more successful NHL coach guiding the rival Bruins to the Stanley Cup in 2011. He’s won 667 career games including 201 in two stints with the Canadiens.

Julien took over for Therrien during ’16-17 after being fired by Boston. It was the second time he relieved Therrien with the first coming during ’02-03. Over his second term, the veteran coach posted a 129-123-35 record for Montreal. He went 72-62-10-15 between 2002-03 and ’05-06. The first two years coming during the dead puck era which included a fourth column for overtime losses.

After surprising the Penguins and taking the Flyers to six games on the strength of goalie Carey Price and rookie Nick Suzuki last summer, expectations increased when GM Marc Bergevin added quality depth by signing leading goal scorer Tyler Toffoli, Corey Perry, Joel Edmundson and acquiring veteran Jake Allen to backup Price. All have performed well with Allen surprisingly outplaying Price, who has a sub .900 save percentage.

They got off to a great start by winning seven of their first ten games with only one loss in regulation. However, the Habs had slumped lately by losing six of their last eight to fall to 9-5-4.

The final straw came in last night’s crazy 5-4 shootout defeat to the Senators. A controversial one that saw video review not count captain Brendan Gallagher’s apparent game-winner with just over two seconds left in regulation. The explanation the refs gave is that Gallagher’s skate contacted Ottawa goalie Matt Murray and ruled that he didn’t have enough time to reset for Gallagher’s redirection. It’s one that angered Gallagher and Montreal fans to the point where it’s still being debated.

Julien’s odd choices in the shootout which included Perry over Suzuki might not have mattered. By most accounts, it sounded like the Canadiens had made up their minds to move on from the bench boss. It had been rumored that his job was on the line due to the recent slump.

It’s still surprising that of all the NHL coaches, Julien became the first one to become a casualty. Especially given the Canucks’ struggles under Travis Green. The Sabres haven’t been playing well either under Ralph Krueger, who healthy scratched Jeff Skinner again during last night’s 4-1 win over the Devils. And the Blue Jackets can’t keep goals out of their net under what looks like a defeated John Tortorella. They’re scoring a lot more since the additions of Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic. But the defense has fallen apart and key goalie Elvis Merzlikins just went on the injured reserve.

All of these coaches could be next in line to lose their job during the shortened 56-game season. Until the recent wins at the Flyers and Capitals, Rangers coach David Quinn could’ve been on that list. If they can win tonight again at Philadelphia, who’ll have Claude Giroux back from COVID Protocol, that would be three in a row. An actual winning streak. Something they haven’t done yet. They enter play 6-7-3.

At the moment, they’re without leading scorer Artemi Panarin due to the outside distractions created by former coach Andrei Nazarov. It’s a story not worth repeating. I broke it all down in the last post. How long they’ll be without the Bread Man remains to be seen.

Even in an abbreviated Covid year full of postponements and rescheduling, coaches aren’t safe. If your team underperforms, you could be next to meet the axe. That’s how today’s coaching carousel works.

Dominique Ducharme will take over for the Habs behind the bench. Ironically, former agitator Alex Burrows was added to the coaching staff. If you recall, his biting incident during the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals against the Julien coached Bruins was well documented. Burrows played for the Canucks and ended his career with the Senators, who effectively ended Julien’s second stint with Montreal.

The Canadiens sit in fourth place I’m the North Division. We’ll see how they respond to the coaching change.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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