It is no exaggeration to say that it is Claude Julien. With the help of his staff, the coach had the challenge of integrating all these new players during a 10-day training camp, without exhibition games and before a two-week road trip that started in Toronto and ended with three games in Vancouver. , and he made it a masterful job.
It’s hard not to be impressed by this. A 4-0-2 start – even for a Canadiens team that everyone thought was deep, balanced and a lot better than the one we saw last year – was pretty hard to imagine given all of those challenges.
And we know where the fingers would be pointed if the Canadiens started 0-2-4 – especially with very high expectations. Definitely to Julien.
How did he pull the right strings to prepare his team for the enormous challenge that awaited him on January 13?
“I think the approach we took at training camp, with a few pre-practice video sessions showing exactly what we wanted to do,” said Julien after Montreal’s 5-2 win over the Canucks on Saturday.
“Being clear about the expectations of the system we’re using and everything, and getting everyone to be comfortable with it, I think, has made a big difference. We went there step by step. Every day was something new, so we just wanted to make sure all the guys had a good understanding of our system. I think it really helped, and it helped our new players fit in with the players who have been here for a while. And I just felt, speaking with the new players, that they were comfortable. They felt there was clarity in the explanations of what we wanted to do. So all of those things together, I think, made the transition a lot easier.
It’s an undeniable part of it, but it’s just as important to know how Julien and his associates structured their team, put their lines together and stuck to their plan from the start.
He didn’t panic when Joel Armia, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Toffoli failed to produce more than one point between them in the first three games. Julien saw that they had scoring opportunities, he was happy with what they were doing and how his other lines were shaping up, and he kept everything intact going into the series against Vancouver.
That’s where Kotkaniemi’s line – Corey Perry taking over from injured Armia for Game 3 against the Canucks – exploded, with Toffoli scoring five goals and seven points.
“I feel like he did a really good job respecting the lines, the alignment, giving everyone who plays – it’s obviously difficult for the guys who don’t – give everyone the world a chance in the lineup to get used to new things, ”said Toffoli after Tuesday practice at the Bell Center.
“Obviously there were little things we didn’t do too well, but he doesn’t really get angry or angry in a way. It is more simply a question of teaching. It was really good, it was really easy to sort out, and I feel like all the new guys are probably saying the same thing. ”
The old folks also feel good about the way the team is run.
Carey Price, in his 14th season with the Canadiens (his fifth with Julien as a coach), said he felt Julien and the staff had done well to prepare everyone and that the work-rest ratio had been optimized to handle busy schedule. .
“Our practices have been upbeat and upbeat,” Price said.
The games went on at a breakneck pace, with the Canadians pushing their opponents at a high pace that is usually not seen in the early games of the regular season.
Canadiens forward Tomas Tatar said last week that the team was having a lot of fun in the process, and it seems pretty clear Julien too.
The 60-year-old suffered a heart attack and was rushed to a Toronto-area hospital after Montreal’s playoff opener with the Philadelphia Flyers last summer. He underwent emergency surgery to stent a coronary artery on August 14 and soon after received a clean checkup and assurances he could return to training – and the pressure and stress. who as a result.
On Tuesday, Julien shared how much it meant to him.
“It’s always important for me to do that,” Julien began. “I don’t think there was ever a time when I took this job for granted. (I feel) particularly lucky to have been doing this for so long. Having gone through what I experienced this summer in the bubble, (it) could have happened both ways. (It) could have been the last time I was behind the bench. And yet here I am today and, through a pandemic and everything in between, I feel lucky that I can continue to do the work that I love to do. And that’s the reason I always do it, because I love it. I’ve always liked being a coach and being part of a group, so that hasn’t changed. But with all that is going on and how some people have been so unhappy and lost their jobs, lost loved ones and everything in between, we consider ourselves lucky to be doing what we are doing. And, at the same time, not just that, but I think we are seizing the opportunity to maybe help improve the mental health of a lot of people who are locked in their homes and there is not much that can be done. I think hockey and hockey games excite them and give them joy. We therefore have the opportunity to do so and it is something that does not go unnoticed on our part.
And Julien particularly likes to do it with this edition of the Canadiens.
“It’s a lot of fun, but it’s been fun from day one,” he said. “I really appreciated the attitude and the approach of these guys from the first day they arrived at the camp. Our players who had been here for a long time were extremely excited and happy to be back. The new guys who have come seem to like the environment and seem to like their new teammates. So it was really good. And that’s sort of (transferred) so far in our games. ”
Now, as Julien said, the challenge is to maintain the good vibes.
“There are six games and we have 50 more,” said Julien. “There are going to be challenges along the way. I just think we have to be mentally prepared to be able to deal with all this adversity that we’re going to have along the way by doing it the right way and being able to get through these things, and that’s going to help us grow. to become an even better team.