MONTREAL - Montreal Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau has been fired, and general manager Bob Gainey is taking over behind the bench for the second time in three years.
The surprise announcement came Monday, a day after the Canadiens ended a two-game losing run with a 3-1 victory over the Stars in Dallas.
"The last eight weeks of performance have been below average, and I believe a change in the direction at ice level is necessary," Gainey said Monday in a news conference.
Gainey will coach his first game Tuesday night against the visiting Edmonton Oilers.
Associate coach Doug Jarvis and assistants Kirk Muller and Roland Melanson will stay in their jobs.
Gainey, the Canadiens' GM since 2003, took over as coach after he fired Claude Julien on Jan. 14, 2006 and handled the team for the rest of the season. That was when he brought his former teammate Carbonneau in as an associate coach with a mandate to take over behind the bench to start the 2006-07 campaign.
Carbonneau, who was in his first head coaching job, had a 124-83-23 record in two-plus seasons with the Habs. He's the seventh NHL head coach to lose his job this season.
Last season, the Canadiens led the NHL Eastern Conference with a 47-25-10 record and 104 points, but were bounced from the playoffs in the second round by Philadelphia. Carbonneau was a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year.
Expectations were high this season, especially with the club celebrating its 100th anniversary.
After a strong start, the Canadiens went into a skid starting just before the all-star game in Montreal on Jan. 25 that saw them win only three of 15 games and fall from safely in playoff position to the thick of the race for the eighth and final post-season spot in the NHL Eastern Conference.
They rebounded with four close wins, then lost two more on the road - including a hapless 2-0 loss to lowly Atlanta - before beating injury-riddled Dallas.
Just a few weeks ago Gainey said his best move as Habs GM was hiring Carbonneau.
But now the former Canadiens captain is out as his team fell into lacklustre, indisciplined hockey and the threat of missing the playoffs came into the picture.
There had been calls for the coach to be axed recently from fans and some media members who felt he had no answers to the way opponents had been shutting down to Montreal's quick-transition game.
"There were certain games when I had a real confusion about the overall ... it showed up as effort, but I felt like it was emotional engagement to a game," said Gainey. "Our team (did) not seem to be emotionally engaged."
Carbonneau, 48, played 13 seasons for the Canadiens between 1980 and 1994, the last five as captain, before moving on to St. Louis and Dallas. He won two Stanley Cups in Montreal and another in Dallas.
The Sept-Iles, Que., native later worked for the Stars, then joined Montreal for a season as supervisor of prospect development and a brief stint as assistant coach.
The last time Gainey took over, he got Montreal into the playoffs, but lost in the first round to eventual Stanley Cup winner Carolina.
Before returning to Montreal, where he had a 16-year career as a player from 1973 to 1989, Gainey coached and was later general manager for the Minnesota/Dallas franchise.
The Habs stand fifth in the Eastern Conference overall standings with a 35-24-7 record. But going into play Monday night, they only had a one-point lead on teams six through eight and a two-point margin on ninth-place Carolina.