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Game Day Preview

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
GAME: Toronto Maple Leafs (24-17-4-1) at Montreal Canadiens (18-19-5-4).

TIME: Saturday, 7 p.m. EST.

Claude Julien makes his NHL coaching debut for the slumping Montreal Canadiens when they take on the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Bell Centre.

Julien became the storied franchise's 26th head coach Friday, replacing Michel Therrien, who was fired earlier in the day after the Canadiens won just two of their previous 12 games.

"My ultimate goal is fairly simple, it's to help the Montreal Canadiens make it to the playoffs," said Julien, who was in his third season as coach of the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs.

The coaching change comes in the midst of Montreal's worst stretch of the season, including back-to-back losses in Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Canadiens were outscored a combined 5-1 in those two games and outshot 74-39.

"It was a very, very tough decision, but a decision I think I had to make," general manager Andre Savard said. "The performance of the team was not going in the right direction.

"I think we have to work harder. Our work ethic has to be better, it has to be more consistent. Whatever the reason is, we're not competing as we should be." Therrien led Montreal to the playoffs for the first time in four years last spring. But this season, the Canadiens are fourth in the Northeast Division and in 10th place in the Eastern Conference.

Toronto has won five of seven (5-2-0), including Friday's 4-1 win over the Washington Capitals. Darcy Tucker ended a prolonged scoring drought with two goals.

The veteran forward scored three goals in Toronto's first five games, but had just one since Nov. 23 prior to Friday.

"I can honestly say ever since the playoffs last year for me, from the standpoint of people are going to be watching exactly every move I make and then scrutinizing it," said Tucker, whose check on Michael Peca during the playoffs last season knocked the Islanders captain out for the postseason and part of this season with a knee injury.

"But I've pretty much said, 'To heck with it.' "I've got to be who I am." STANDINGS: Maple Leafs - 53 points, 2nd place, 11 PB, Northeast Division.

Canadiens - 45 points, 4th place, 19 PB, Northeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Maple Leafs - Alexander Mogilny, 20 goals, 29 assists and 49 points; Tie Domi, 94 PIM. Canadiens - Richard Zednik, 20 goals; Saku Koivu, 30 assists and 43 points; Oleg Petrov, 48 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Jan. 16): Maple Leafs - Power play: 19.4 percent (40 for 206), 6th in NHL. Penalty killing: 86.8 percent (198 for 228), 4th.

Canadiens - Power play: 15.6 percent (30 for 192), 20th. Penalty killing: 80.1 percent (157 for 196), 27th.

GOALTENDERS: Maple Leafs - Ed Belfour (21-12-3, 5 SO, 2.07 GAA); Trevor Kidd (2-7-1, 3.59). Canadiens - Jose Theodore (11-15-3, 1, 3.10); Jeff Hackett (7-8-2, 2.54).

SEASON SERIES: Canadiens, 1-0-1.

LAST MEETING: Nov. 2; Canadiens, 5-2. At Toronto, Zednik and Petrov each scored twice, while Hackett stopped 30 shots to lift the Canadiens. Mikael Renberg and Andrei Markov tallied goals for Toronto and Belfour turned aside 27 shots.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Maple Leafs - 8-10-2-1 on the road; Canadiens - 10-8-3-1 at home.
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