MONTREAL – When the players arrived at the Bell Centre for an early meeting on Saturday morning, it was about more than just Xs and Os.
Before hitting the ice for their usual morning skate ahead of Saturday’s game against the Devils, the Habs received some surprising news from general manager Pierre Gauthier. Not happy with his team’s current 13-12-7 record, Gauthier had relieved head coach Jacques Martin of his duties, handing over the reins to Randy Cunneyworth for the remainder of the season.
“It was a shock for us this morning, but it sends a message,” confirmed Tomas Plekanec, who will have now played for five different head coaches during his eight years in Montreal. “We’re not happy with where we are now and we need to pick it up. We’re in this together. There’s definitely more in this group than we’ve shown and it’s up to us players to prove that. We’re the ones on the ice and we need to be better.”
While the coach is the one who makes the decisions on the bench, the players are fully aware that the blame for the team’s current record doesn’t rest solely on Martin.
“We’re in 11th place. 11th place is what went wrong,” stressed Michael Cammalleri of his team’s current standing in the Eastern Conference. “It’s definitely a shared responsibility, and this is a cliché, but more often than not it’s easier to fire a coach than to change personnel in the players.”
Despite employing the same system this year that saw the Canadiens reach the Eastern Conference finals in 2010 for the first time since 1993, Martin and his approach have taken heat in recent weeks after giving up a handful of third period leads. The shake-up behind the bench won’t suddenly alter the DNA of the team, but Josh Gorges is hoping his coach’s dismissal will serve as a much-needed wake-up call inside the dressing room.
“All I know is that collectively, as a group of players and as a group of coaches, we didn’t get the job done. We didn’t play and we didn’t perform together,” confirmed Gorges, who is currently leading the team with a plus-12 differential. “No matter what system is put in place, it doesn’t matter; what matters is that everyone buys in together and plays the system the right way.
“If you only have half the guys or three quarters of the guys doing what’s asked of them, then everyone’s in disarray,” added the 27-year-old assistant captain. “We weren’t doing the things we needed to do to win and consequently, we lost games we shouldn’t have lost. Changes needed to be made. It’s sad it had to come to that, but we need to respond now.”
The Canadiens won’t have to wait long to see how the news will translate into on-ice production. With Cunneyworth set to make his NHL head coaching debut against New Jersey on Saturday night, Gorges took a moment after the morning skate to make sure the new bench boss knew he had his troops behind him.
“I wanted to first of all let him know that we’re there to support him and whatever he says, we’re going to follow his lead,” shared Gorges. “He’s our coach and he has all of our support and I wanted to be sure he knew that coming from me and us as players. At the same time, we have to be better at doing our job. Realistically, the reason Jacques lost his job is not because of a lack of effort on his part but because of a lack of production in games.
“I don’t see ourselves changing our systems or the way we play,” he concluded. “Things are going to stay relatively the same. We understand that the system works; it’s a matter of everyone doing it.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
Players' reactions: Gill, Gorges, Eller, Cammalleri, Darche, Cole
Pierre Gauthier & Randy Cunneyworth press conference: Part 1, Part 2
Winds of change
Randy Cunneyworth named interim head coach of the Montreal Canadiens