Sec­ond na­ture’

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

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY BILL BEA­CON

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 tonight. 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.

CP PHOTO

Mon­treal Cana­di­ens head coach Claude Julien looks on dur­ing NHL ac­tion against the Win­nipeg Jets in Mon­treal on Feb. 18.

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