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Claude Julien wants Canadiens looking forward

New coach says no reason to dwell on 2015-16 collapse

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / Senior Managing Editor

BROSSARD, Quebec -- Claude Julien didn't want to go there, which is understandable because he wasn't the coach of the Montreal Canadiens two weeks ago, let alone a season ago.

But the similarities between this Canadiens season and the last one have been popping up right from the start, and they are continuing now in the worst way possible.

A season ago, the Canadiens got off to a hot start, cooled off a little bit and took a serious nose dive at the start of December after goaltender Carey Price went down for the season with a right knee injury. New personnel was brought in over the offseason to prevent something similar from happening this season, except now it has.

Price is not injured, but the Canadiens nonetheless have entered a tailspin similar to the one last season, the only difference being it started in the middle of December instead of the beginning.

"I don't think anyone likes to go back in the past unless you won," Julien said after practice Monday. "That's the only time you live in the past."

Video: WPG@MTL: Price flashes the leather to rob Laine

The Canadiens enter their game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; MSG, SNE, RDS, NHL.TV) with a 1-6-1 record in their previous eight games and a 12-14-5 record since Dec. 11. It will be Julien's second game since he was hired to replace Michel Therrien last Tuesday, and the urgency to get his first win is rather high.

The game Tuesday is a potential first-round matchup in the Stanley Cup Playoffs assuming the Canadiens can hang on to first place in the Atlantic Division. That seemed like a virtual lock when they had a nine-point cushion at the end of January, but it is in serious question now with the Ottawa Senators sitting two points behind the Canadiens with two games in hand.

The Canadiens have been first in the Atlantic Division all season, but a regulation loss in New York and a Senators win at the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; MSG+, RDS2, TSN5, NHL.TV) would change that and send memories of last season rushing right back in Montreal.

Because he didn't go through it, it's easier for Julien to say last season is in the past and the focus must be on the present.

Brendan Gallagher did go through it, and he mentioned last season without even being asked about it Monday, providing some proof that the experience does linger in at least some of the players' minds.

"I think when we all showed up at the start of the year, the biggest question you guys all asked was what did we learn from last year," Gallagher said when asked to describe the level of urgency among the Canadiens. "I think what we're going through now is that lesson that we learned: Whether you won or lost the game before, you've got to come to the rink with the right attitude and mindset. One day at a time. As cliche as it sounds, you have to stick with the process, and if you believe in it, if everyone who suits up and puts on that sweater every night believes in the process, you'll get to where you want to get to."

A mid-February road game should not be vital for a team that is comfortably in position to make the playoffs, but the mental impact of potentially losing first place in the division might just make the game in New York on Tuesday the most important of the season thus far for the Canadiens.

The process Gallagher was referring to continued being implemented by Julien at practice Monday, with some changes made to Montreal's defensive-zone coverage, transition game and patience in the offensive zone.

The Canadiens scored six goals in the seven losses of this 1-6-1 slump. Julien said they will look to break out of that scoring drought by ensuring that once they lose the puck, they get it back quickly, get out of their zone quickly and spend the rest of the shift in the offensive zone.

"We're giving up too many [scoring] chances right now, and we want to limit that, we'll create more offense by taking care of that first," said defenseman Shea Weber, the key offseason acquisition who was brought in to help prevent a slide like the one the Canadiens find themselves in. "Especially in the second half of the year, you look at how close most of the games are, they're one-goal games. So you make sure you're taking care of your end, especially with the goaltender we have, who's one of the best in the world. Limit the chances on him, and he'll do his job and we'll play in the other end from that."

Video: STL@MTL: Weber hammers a slap shot past Allen

The Canadiens need to make sure that starts Tuesday because, even if Julien doesn't believe you live in the past unless you won, it is clear some of his players find the current situation too familiar to ignore.

"I've always believed that you learn more from a loss than you do from a win," Gallagher said. "You learn more about yourself as a team and as an individual. Last year was obviously a disappointing season, but I think we learned a lot of lessons. Going through a time like this, whatever it is, confidence-wise or if it's not getting results when you're playing well, we understand we're still in a good position.

"You've got to be able to put that behind you and just focus on winning one hockey game."

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