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Canadiens focusing only on game vs. Rangers

Friday, 03.30.2012 / 1:45 PM / NHL Insider

By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Canadiens focusing only on game vs. Rangers
The Montreal Canadiens arrived at Madison Square Garden on Friday as a team without a general manager, Pierre Gauthier being removed from the position Thursday after two seasons.
NEW YORK -- The Montreal Canadiens arrived at Madison Square Garden on Friday as a team without a general manager, Pierre Gauthier being removed from the position Thursday after two seasons.

Bob Gainey, Gauthier's predecessor, also was relieved of his duties as a special advisor to the club. Assistant coach Larry Carriere returned to his position as assistant GM, with goaltending coach Pierre Groulx taking Carriere's role on the bench.

It's been a season full of turmoil for the NHL's most storied franchise -- the Habs also fired assistant coach Perry Pearn and coach Jacques Martin and traded star Mike Cammalleri in the middle of a game.

Interim coach Randy Cunneyworth was asked if he ever has experienced a season quite like this one.

"We came to the rink this morning knowing we had a big game tonight against a good hockey team. That's what we're trying to focus our energy and our minds on tonight, making sure we come out and have a strong game and a strong showing."
-- Canadiens' defenseman Josh Gorges

"No, I haven't," Cunneyworth said, drawing laughs from the assembled media. "There's always some things, be it injuries or trades. I think every team experiences these things. It's been a tough season. The fact you can have a similar process go on with a few more wins, it makes it a better season. I think everybody's happier."

The Canadiens have five games remaining in their disappointing season, starting Friday against the East-leading New York Rangers (7:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US). With 72 points in 77 games, the Canadiens are 15th in the Eastern Conference, three points behind the 14th-place Toronto Maple Leafs. It's possible the Canadiens will finish in last place in the League, a conference or a division for the first time since they finished seventh in the seven-team NHL in 1939-40.

Erik Cole, who signed a four-year, $18 million contract with the Canadiens in July, said the players are the ones who should feel responsible for the firings and trades of this season.

"It just goes to show how poorly we've underperformed this year as a group," Cole said. "Maybe in some other organizations a season like this can be written off or tolerated, but I feel that with the winning tradition and culture here, it's just unacceptable. It's on us as players. We've cost several persons their positions in this organization this year, I think that's something we should all be ashamed of and be looking into the mirror. It's up to us get better and be better as a group."

Cole said he doesn't expect Gauthier's dismissal to fire up the team, but it should serve as a warning for anyone who wants to be on the roster next season.

The Montreal Canadiens arrived at Madison Square Garden on Friday as a team without a general manager, Pierre Gauthier being removed from the position Thursday after two seasons. (Photo: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images Sport)
"I don't know if you can really just carry over what happened into tonight's game," said Cole, who has scored a career-high 31 goals in his first season with Montreal. "I think that if anything, as a group, everyone should be more aware of the fact that everyone's being evaluated top to bottom in our organization. There should be pressure to play every night. If you view yourself as a top-minute guy on this team, you better play like it. That's just to have the opportunity to be on the radar next year.

"All we can control is what happens on the ice for the next week here, then we're just going to be like everyone else and wait and see what changes are made."

Several players were asked their thoughts on potential replacements for Gauthier, including Tampa Bay Lightning assistant GM Julien BriseBois and goaltending legend Patrick Roy, who is currently the co-owner, GM and coach of the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL.

Brisebois could be the favorite to land the job. He spent three seasons (2007-10) as GM of the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Canadiens' American Hockey League affiliate. Hamilton went 137-78-25 under BriseBois.

"I think you would assume he would be a candidate for the job," defenseman Josh Gorges said. "He's done some great things. He's been a part of this organization, so they know what to expect with a guy like that. But we don't put too much thought into it. It's all speculation and names being thrown around. Until something happens, nothing really changes."

With all that's gone on this season, the Canadiens have been faced with unenviable task of tuning out distractions several times. The Habs ripped off four straight wins after Pearn was fired hours before a game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Oct. 27, but lost four straight after Martin was let go Dec. 17.

The Canadiens will attempt to turn the page one last time against the Rangers, a team they have beaten twice in three attempts this season.

"We came to the rink this morning knowing we had a big game tonight against a good hockey team," Gorges said. "That's what we're trying to focus our energy and our minds on tonight, making sure we come out and have a strong game and a strong showing.

"It's a new beginning starting today."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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