Coach Claude Julien splits up Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin and puts Kenny Agostino on No. 1 power-play unit for game vs. Avalanche.

Canadiens coach Claude Julien has decided to split up Max Domi (left) and Jonathan Drouin as linemates. Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images

“We are stale,” Claude Julien said after the Canadiens’ morning skate in Brossard ahead of Saturday night’s game against the Colorado Avalanche at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., SN, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio).

That’s why the coach decided to shake up his forward lines after the Canadiens went 1-3-0 in their last four games while scoring only five goals and falling out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin have been split up and Julien also broke up the line of Phillip Danault between Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher that had been together since the start of training camp.

Here’s how the new forward lines looked at the morning skate:

Drouin – Danault – Gallagher
Lehkonen – Domi – Armia
Tatar – Kotkaniemi – Byron
Agostino – Chaput – Deslauriers

“When I made those changes I knew this was going to be this kind of a media scrum,” Julien said during his news conference after the morning skate. “Guys, we were stale. There’s not just two guys changing, we changed three lines. We were stale … I’m going to leave it at that. So it’s not about one guy or two guys, it’s about our lines were stale. When you look at our scoring chances, our Grade A scoring chances, it wasn’t just Drouin and Domi. It was all the lines that really weren’t creating those. So I felt we were stale, it’s time to make a change.

“I like consistency in your lines as much as you can because they get to know each other and they find each other on the ice,” Julien added. “But, at the same time, you have to be realistic and know that sometimes you got to make changes. Whether it’s for long term or short term, it will depend on how things go.”

Domi, Drouin slumping

Domi has gone 15 games without scoring a goal, while Drouin hasn’t scored in four games and has only one in the last seven.

What happened to the chemistry they had together earlier in the season?

“We wouldn’t be here if I had the answer to that one,” Drouin said after the morning skate. “I don’t know. There’s some stretches of the year you’re not going to go 45 games, 50 games with the same lines. We weren’t playing with that high pace or high energy we’re used to. Hopefully those little line changes can spark him and me.

“It’s part of this business,” Drouin added about the line changes. “The way we’re playing, we’re slipping away a bit of what we’ve been wanting to do when we started training camp at the beginning of the year. Hopefully a couple of line changes can spark a couple of things.”

Drouin will now be playing for the first time with Phillip Danault as his centre.

“The way he’s playing this year he’s changed his game a little bit and even got to another level from last year,” Drouin said about Danault. “Gally’s been Gally, so it’s going to be nice to jump on that line and try to bring some speed and play our game.”

Gallagher looking forward to playing with Drouin

Gallagher said he’s looking forward to playing on the same line with Drouin.

“He’s extremely talented, for sure,” Gallagher said after the morning skate. “He’s a guy that you kind of want to have the puck and he makes mine and Phil’s job pretty easy, like it had been with Tuna (Tatar) as well. You try and get the puck in those guys’ hands as much as you can and usually good things are going to happen. With Dru there, you just try and use his skill set. Very composed with the puck, skates really well and, obviously, he’s going to find you if you’re open. So you just try and do what you can do to help him out and give him the puck.”

Changes on power play

Julien has also made changes to his two power-play units — and for good reason. The Canadiens are 1-for-17 in the last six games with the man advantage and rank dead-last in the NHL on the power play with a 12.8 per cent success rate. An 87.2 per cent failure rate is probably a better way to look at it.

Here’s how the two power-play units looked at the morning skate in a 1-3-1 setup:





Agostino joins first power-play unit

Fourth-liner Kenny Agostino now finds himself on the first power-play unit, set up in front of the net.

“We see the smarts in this player who makes good plays,” Julien said about Agostino, who has 2-9-11 totals in 30 games. “When you watch him play, he creates things with his hockey IQ. For us, you’re trying to find solutions on the PP. 

“I’ll give an example,” the coach added. “When you see Ryan Reaves on the power play for Vegas, people say: ‘What’s he doing there?’ His skill level is not a highly-skilled player. But he’s got a big body, does a great job in front of the net. So you need players playing different roles. In Agostina’s case, I think in tight we feel like right now we haven’t found anybody who really has been outstanding in that area. So we’re hoping he can and, at the same time, his big body is hopefully going to do a good job in front of the net when it’s time to screen. So those are things that you think through and you got to try them. Right now, there’s no reason not to try things when your power play is sitting at 31st in the league.”

New power-play spot for Weber

Shea Weber has moved from the point to the left wall on the No. 1 power-play unit with Julien hoping it will free the captain up to blast more one-timer shots.

“You just got to do whatever position you’re in and, obviously, up top you’re more of a distributor to either side,” Weber said. “Obviously, you’re going to shoot when you get a chance down the middle, but usually there’s a lot more traffic. So hopefully we can get some openings there and get some more shots.”

Weber added that better puck retrieval will be a key to get the power play going.

“It’s something we’ve talked about definitely in here throughout the year,” the captain said. “We’ve got to get better at retrieval. A lot of times we’re one and done. Hopefully just having everyone on the same page here working together to get those pucks back we’re going to get more opportunities.”

Healthy scratches

Forwards Matthew Peca and Charles Hudon will be healthy scratches for the Canadiens against the Avalanche, along with defenceman Karl Alzner.

Here’s how the defence pairings looked at the morning skate:


Where the Canadiens stand

The Canadiens (23-17-5) head into the game in ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings, one point out of a wild-card playoff spot.

The Canadiens rank 15th in the NHL in offence, scoring an average of 2.96 goals per game, and 21st in defence, allowing an average of 3.14 goals per game. They rank 31st on the power play (12.8 per cent), 20th in penalty-killing (78.4 per cent) and 30th in faceoffs (47.0 per cent).

Domi leads the Canadiens in scoring with 14-25-39 totals, followed by Tatar (14-19-33), Drouin (13-20-33), Jeff Petry (9-22-31) and Danault (7-21-28).

Carey Price, who will start in goal against the Avalanche, has a 16-13-4 record with a 2.75 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage.

Where the Avalanche stand

The Avalanche (20-16-8) head into the game holding the first wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Avalanche rank seventh in the NHL in offence, scoring an average of 3.43 goals per game, and 23rd in defence, allowing an average of 3.18 goals per game. They rank fifth on the power play (25.9 per cent), 27th in penalty-killing (75.5 per cent) and 24th in faceoffs (48.3 per cent).

Mikko Rantanen leads the Avalanche in scoring with 20-48-68 totals, followed by Nathan MacKinnon (26-40-66), Gabriel Landeskog (27-24-51), Tyson Barrie (5-27-32) and Carl Soderberg (12-13-25).

Semyon Varlamov, who will start in goal against the Canadiens, has an 11-9-5 record with a 2.85 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage.

What’s next?

The Canadiens will enjoy a day off on Sunday before playing back-to-back games against the Bruins Monday night in Boston (7:30 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio) and then the Florida Panthers Tuesday night at the Bell Centre (7:30 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio).

The Canadiens will then wrap up the week with another set of back-to-back games when they visit the Columbus Blue Jackets Friday night (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio) before facing the Philadelphia Flyers next Saturday night at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., CBC, SNE, SNO, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio).


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