EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -Claude Julien was fired as coach of the first-place New Jersey Devils on Monday and replaced by general manager Lou Lamoriello with less than a week to go in the regular season.
Lamoriello will coach the final three regular-season games, starting on Tuesday night against Ottawa, and the playoffs. It marks the second straight season he has taken over behind the bench. Last year, he replaced Larry Robinson in December.
"I don't think we're at a point of being ready both mentally and (physically) to play the way that is necessary going into the playoffs," Lamoriello said outside the Devils' deserted locker room at the Continental Airlines Arena. "I am not saying that is going to change. But I think there has to be better focus going forward."
The firing comes after the Devils won four of their last five games. The team is in first place in the Atlantic Division.
Julien, who was informed of his dismissal on Monday morning by Lamoriello, was not immediately available for comment.
"He certainly understands," said Lamoriello, who said his decision was not spur of the moment.
A practice scheduled for Monday was called off after Lamoriello discussed the move with the team.
"Our job is to listen to what has been said and why the decision was made," Devils captain Patrik Elias said. "Management said it gives us the best chance to accomplish what we want to accomplish and that is to win the (Stanley) Cup."
The firing came less than 24 hours after New Jersey beat Boston 3-1 to take a one point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Devils' 47-24-8 record in Julien's first season in New Jersey was the second-best in the Eastern Conference.
"You don't always judge by wins and losses as far as where you are at," said Lamoriello, who built three Stanley Cup winning teams in New Jersey the previous 11 seasons. "The way we put ourselves in this organization, you have to look at the big picture. To say that 102 points today isn't an excellent accomplishment, it's extremely positive. But I have to look at a lot of factors."
Lamoriello would not say what factors went into his decision. The Devils, who have struggled scoring all season, have slumped recently, winning seven of 15 games with forwards Brian Gionta, John Madden and Elias sidelined by groin injuries.
However, the three have gotten back in the lineup in the past week, helping to turn things around.
Julien also was handicapped by a roster problems because the Devils have battled the NHL salary cap all season. Injuries have forced him to play several minor league players.
"I think everybody takes responsibility, including me," Lamoriello said.
Monday's firing isn't the only time Lamoriello made a late-season coaching move. He fired Robbie Ftorek with eight games left in the 1999-2000 season and Robinson led the team to its second Stanley Cup title.
Lamoriello didn't consider the change in 2000 in deciding to replace Julien.
"You don't think of those things," Lamoriello said. "Nothing makes it any easier, believe me. The day anything like this becomes easy, or when it's trading a player or when you have make these decisions and it becomes easy, that's the day you look for a different position."
Julien previously coached the Montreal Canadiens from January 2003 until January 2006.