First and foremost, let’s take a moment to wish Claude Julien a prompt recovering from his cardiac episode (or tightness in the chest, as they said). I have absolutely no doubt that Claude is a great guy and definitely a truly respected professional. As a matter of fact, the Boston Bruins and the New Jersey Devils, two teams that Julien has coached in the past, took the time to send their best wishes to the Canadiens’ bench boss through Twitter.
With that out of the way, Julien’s misfortune turns into an opportunity for Kirk Muller. It is he who will have the final decisions behind the Canadiens’ bench for the rest of this series against the Philadelphia Flyers. One can think that both assistant-coaches, Dominique Ducharme and Luke Richardson, will have added responsibilities as well… and all of that could be a good thing.
The ever smiling Muller has some experience as a head coach, having coached the Carolina Hurricanes from 2011 to 2014. The former Canadiens’ captain came back to Montreal in 2016 as an associate-coach to Julien in 2016, a position he still occupies. This is his second stint on the Habs’ coaching staff as he was assistant coach from 2006 to 2011.
Let’s not kid ourselves here. Julien has a very good relationship with his alternate and assistant coaches. They make most of the decisions together but in the even of a conflict, the head coach makes the final call. He also decides on lines combinations. Frequent readers of this blog know too well that I’ve been calling for a coaching change at the end of this COVID Cup. While this is definitely not the way I wanted it to happen, I’m hoping that the “new” coaching staff will bring in their own touch to the team. And that includes more efficient lines combinations.
There are a few things that I’d like to see change immediately:
- Xavier Ouellet and Alex Belzile are not NHL players, and while I love Dale Weise, he’s no longer efficient out there.
- Victor Mete is a young defenseman who’s being asked too much by playing on his off-side on the right. He needs to go back to the left to be more effective.
- The Flyers are a physical team and one of Cale Fleury or Noah Juulsen would bring more sand paper, particularly to the third pairing on defense.
- Max Domi is NOT a fourth line player and he MUST be bumped to the top-9 forwards.
- Ryan Poehling needs to get in there. He’s another big body who can skate and has some skills. Give him the fourth line and add one of Jake Evans (if ready) or Charles Hudon. They won’t be worse than Weise and Belzile.
Players need to step it up
There are a few players who need to step up their game if the Canadiens wish to give the Flyers a battle. The first two names that come to mind are Joel Armia and Tomas Tatar, both of whom are still looking for their first points of this COVID Cup. Domi also hasn’t registered a point but he’s been playing mostly on the fourth line.
Brendan Gallagher and Phillip Danault, two guys who eat up a lot of ice time for the Canadiens, only have two points each and no goals amongst them.
It’s nice to see Nick Suzuki gain in confidence and get a bigger role. It’s also reassuring to see Jesperi Kotkaniemi‘s improvement since he last skated with the team. The young guys are stepping up. Time for the offensive veterans to start putting points on the board to help the outstanding work of Carey Price, Shea Weber, Jeff Petry and Ben Chiarot.
Here are the lines that I would like to see, or something similar:
Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Domi – Suzuki – Armia
Drouin – Kotkaniemi – Byron
Lehkonen – Poehling – Evans/Hudon
Chiarot – Weber
Kulak – Petry
Mete – Juulsen/Fleury
It’s in your hands Kirk, Dominique and Luke. Time to seize your opportunity and maybe, just maybe, show Marc Bergevin that the team is better off with a younger grip behind the bench. Go Habs Go!