Rabid Habs

Brown: Claude Julien’s System Isn’t Working For the Habs

Your Montreal Canadiens have a middling 15-15-4 record this season. It’s been a season of surprise as we head toward the midway mark of the season. Ordinary goaltending in the early going and a lack of offensive firepower are compelling reasons why the Canadiens are in a hole. Coming into the season, there was hope that with Claude Julien pulling the strings for a full season, the Habs would reap rewards when they comply with his sound defensive structure and his high-reward, high-possession offense.

33 games into the season, the Canadiens are still struggling to find results.

It’s seemingly the case that Julien doesn’t have the proper players for his system. The system he wants to play requires a mix of big power forwards that are strong with the puck and players who are tenacious on the forecheck. There’s a reason why the Bruins, even today, are known as “big” and “bad”. When Julien led the Bruins to glory in 2011, he had players like Milan Lucic (6’3, 236LBS) and Nathan Horton (6’2, 229LBS) who were not afraid to lay the body while being important top-6 players. He also had the checkers like Shawn Thornton and Gregory Campbell who could chip in offensively.

In his tenure with the Bruins, Julien relied heavily on players like Campbell and Thornton defensively. He had Brad Marchand who was, and still is, tenacious on the forecheck. Julien had all the tools necessary for his team to succeed. Overall, the Bruins were able to play a high-possession game because their size made it easier to dominate in puck possession on a regular basis.

Julien is implementing the same system with the Canadiens; however, the Canadiens are the opposite of a “big team”; they’re a small, counter-attacking team and they don’t play big. They can punish you from the counter due to their speed, but their lack of size and strength along the boards are prime reasons why they can’t keep the puck away from their opponents. It’s difficult for the Habs to sustain a strong forechecking game when they’re constantly out-muscled off the puck.

Granted, It’s not necessary to obtain big players like Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton for Julien’s system to succeed. However, players like Andrew Shaw, Brendan Gallagher, Arturri Lehkonen and Daniel Carr fit his mold. While small, they’re tenacious on the forecheck and they never give up. Julien needs more players like that, and that’s exactly why he’s overplaying Nicolas Deslauriers. Deslauriers is physical and strong along the boards. Deslauriers’s effectiveness is up for debate, but Claude Julien needs more relentless forcheckers for his system to work properly.

When players like Steve Ott, Andreas Martinsen, and Dwight King came into the fold, it was because those players fit Claude Julien’s criteria. They’re all physical and heavy hitters. He thought Ott, Martinsen, and King could play the same role as someone like Gregory Campbell or Shawn Thornton, players that Claude Julien adored. Clearly, his experiment failed. He needs players like Andrew Shaw and Brendan Gallagher who are tenacious on the forecheck on any given night in order for his system to work.

Claude Julien still has time to right the ship and lead the Canadiens to the playoffs, but some tweaking will need to be done.

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