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A new start

Claude Julien holds first practice with Habs since 2006, on Friday

by Joanie Godin @CanadiensMTL /

BROSSARD -- It's official, Claude Julien finally coached his first practice with the Canadiens on Friday afternoon, before a gathering of fans at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard.

And that he has less than 24 hours to get his new team ready for their next game has the incoming Habs bench boss unphased.

"I like what I saw today, and I hope it continues into tomorrow's game -- which I'm very excited for," admitted Julien, who otherwise confirmed that his arrival will come with a number of tweaks as opposed to wholesale changes.

That second part was welcome news to the players.

"He doesn't want to throw too many things at us. He'd rather have to pull us back than to push us forward. He wants us to play with a lot of energy, confidence, and speed. We practiced that a bit today, and moving forward it's something that he plans to implement into our system in bits and pieces," explained captain Max Pacioretty. "It's tough to change the way we play in 24 hours, but he said there are a lot of great things with the way we were playing, and with the team we have here. We've showed a lot of confidence in who we are as players, and what we're capable of doing."

According to Pacioretty, with a new coach comes a new wind, and that theory will be put to the test as soon as Saturday.

"It's always a bit exciting to go out there and get a bit of a boost when fresh eyes are on you, fresh people are evaluating what you're doing, and you're getting different input," added the Habs scoring leader. "Even hearing different buzzwords, and different ways of explaining things -- it boosts energy and gets guys going, which we should see tomorrow."


Winning formula

That Julien is a former Stanley Cup winner was likewise welcome news to the club.

"He knows the recipe for success," acknowledged goaltender Carey Price.

One Hab in particular even remembers some of his experience against the new head coach in his most recent trip to the Finals.

"I faced him in the 2013 Cup Final, but I got hit in the head a lot, so I've forgotten a bit since then," joked former Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw. "But I knew he was a good coach, he coached a good team and he gets the best out of his players. That Boston team was only a few seconds away from pushing the series to Game 7. It was an amazing series, and it gave him experience at both ends -- winning and losing. I think his experience as a coach will help us a lot."

Now in Montreal, Julien has already started looking for the latest iteration of that winning formula. On Friday, he featured new lines at practice, including one with Alex Galchenyuk centering Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov.

"There are things I want to try, and even though they may not stick, I want to give every player a shot at proving themselves," underlined the Canadiens coach. "Not just Galchenyuk, but everyone. If things don't work, then we'll adjust accordingly."

Tomas Plekanec for his part -- who has experience under Julien not only in Montreal, but also with the Hamilton Bulldogs -- completed a second line with Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher.

"The goal of putting him there is to give him a chance," stressed Julien. "I want him to play well, and sometimes all a player needs is a bit of encouragement. I have a good feeling that he'll find his game."

Lots of work left

"I'll sleep when I'm dead!"

Julien didn't mince words when explaining his eagerness to get back behind the bench this weekend.

While the players may have benefited from a couple of days under the sun during the bye week, the new Habs coach was at the office as of 7:00 a.m. on Friday morning, and his job wasn't done once the media left, either.

"A lot of short nights for me this week, but the most important thing right now is learning as much as possible," continued the Ontario native. "I've been trying to discuss as much as possible with the rest of the coaching staff, as well as meet with each of the players individually."

And the return to a bleu-blanc-rouge dressing room has almost been as smooth as he could have hoped, so far.

"I actually kept all my old gear, but it's a lot tighter this time around!"


- Julien will return behind the Bell Centre bench for the first time since 2006, on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. when the Canadiens host the visiting Winnipeg Jets. Price will be in the goal for the occasion.

"I know that a lot of teams have struggled coming out of the bye week, but I intend to change that trend tomorrow," concluded the 56-year-old.


Forward lines and defensive pairings at practice


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