With a new head coach on the bench, the Montreal Canadiens look to get their season on track when they visit the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday.
Dominique Ducharme was promoted from assistant coach to the top job on Tuesday after the Canadiens fired head coach Claude Julien and assistant coach Kirk Muller.
“In Dominique Ducharme, we see a very promising coach who will bring new life and new energy to our group,” Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said. “We feel that our team can achieve high standards and the time had come for a change.”
A coaching switch would have seemed inconceivable less than three weeks ago, when Montreal began the season with an 8-2-2 record and looked like one of the NHL’s top teams. Since that hot start, however, the Habs are 1-3-2 and winless over their last three games (0-1-2).
The Canadiens are coming off a pair of non-regulation road losses to the Ottawa Senators. Montreal suffered a 3-2 defeat in overtime on Sunday then lost a shootout for a 5-4 result on Tuesday.
While the Habs are looking to break out of their slump, the Jets have won two games in a row and may have discovered a new super-line. The trio of Pierre-Luc Dubois, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler combined for three goals and six assists in Winnipeg’s 4-3 overtime victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday.
Dubois recorded two goals (including the overtime winner) and an assist in a breakout performance. After being acquired in a trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 23, Dubois went without a point in his first two games with Winnipeg and then missed four games due to a lower-body injury.
Dubois normally plays center, but coach Paul Maurice chose to deploy him as a winger on the Jets’ top line in order to help ease Dubois back into action. Sunday’s results indicate that Maurice now has some nice options while assembling his lines.
“I don’t have (Dubois) as a long-term winger,” Maurice said. “But it’s a good way to introduce a guy into your systems, into everything, and he helps you win while it’s going on. … So, it won’t be that he permanently goes to another line as long as it’s working well, but I might flip him and Stas (Paul Stastny) out a little bit.”
Scheifele has scored in five consecutive games and collected 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) as part of a 10-game points streak.
Jets defenseman Tucker Poolman (upper-body injury) is day-to-day after leaving Sunday’s game in the second period.
Connor Hellebuyck will likely start in net for Winnipeg. Hellebuyck is 8-5-1 with a 2.64 goals against average and .916 save percentage this season.
It remains to be seen if the Habs’ coaching change could affect Carey Price’s standing as Montreal’s starting goaltender. Jake Allen has already started seven games and has a .932 save percentage and 2.14 GAA this season, while the inconsistent Price has only an .893 save percentage and 2.95 GAA in 11 games.
This is the first meeting of the season between the Canadiens and Jets, and the two clubs are also slated to play again on Saturday in Winnipeg. The two North Division rivals are scheduled to face each other nine times over the regular season’s final 38 games.
–Field Level Media