Habs hope for change of direction in Toronto

TORONTO — The Montreal Canadiens’ coaching change has not had an immediate impact on improving the struggling team’s performance.

Since Claude Julien, who himself was fired by the Boston Bruins, took over from Michel Therrien, the Canadiens are 1-2-0 and have scored a total of four goal.

The latest loss was 3-0 to the New York Islanders Thursday.

The Canadiens will try to start moving in the right direction Saturday night when they play the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.

“(The Maple Leafs) got a lot of first-round picks that were early picks, and it makes a big difference,” Julien said after practice on Friday. “Those teams obviously finished low for many years to be able to get those kind of players. Babs (coach Mike Babcock) has done a great job with them in bringing those kids along. There’s a lot of skill and there’s obviously a lot of speed in that lineup so we have to play smart. They can be energetic, but we have to use our experience to our advantage.”

The Maple Leafs are coming off a 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Rangers Thursday in which goaltender Frederik Andersen was superb, especially in the first period in which Toronto scored the only goal against the run of play.

Toronto is 1-7 in shootouts this season.

“It’s a tough way to lose a game,” said Toronto right winger Connor Brown, who scored the first-period goal. “I think we’ll find our way in the shootout the more we get comfortable with it, these young guys. It’s a tough way to lose a hockey game for sure, especially when you battle hard for 65 (minutes).”

The Maple Leafs are again expected to be without center Mitch Marner (right shoulder), who is on injured reserve, and defenseman Connor Carrick (upper body), who is listed as day to day.

Carrick’s absence allowed defenseman Alexey Marchenko to make his Maple Leafs debut Thursday. He was claimed off waivers from the Detroit Red Wings three weeks ago.

“I thought (Marchenko) made a real good play on our goal (in the first period),” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “I thought he had another one get to the net and he turned the puck over one time on a D-zone faceoff coming around. Obviously, he’s got skill and he’s smart and he’s a big man out there so that was a positive as well.”

After Montreal’s loss to the Islanders, there were questions about the possibility of splitting the No. 1 defense tandem of Alexei Emelin and Shea Weber.

“Nothing’s set in stone here,” Julien said on Friday “I can make changes and we’re three games in. You guys are asking me about making changes right away. I think it’s a matter of time here before I decide to make changes. Because you don’t stay with the status quo when you’re not winning hockey games. So, there’s no doubt I have to think about making changes if things don’t work out.

“I know Shea’s played with Marky (Andrei Markov) as a pair and stuff like that. Certainly, something you could always go back to; certainly, an option here moving forward.”

Julien said he intends to maintain a positive approach.

“When I say positive with these guys, it doesn’t mean you don’t bring to the forefront what we need to do better,” he said after the game Thursday. “But tomorrow, we got to wake up and we got to get back to work here because we got a game in Toronto on Saturday and we got to be ready for that. So, if you’re going to drag this game tonight into tomorrow, you’re not helping yourself.”

As far as team finding its identity, Julien said: “In order to have an identity as a team, you have to have consistency. And we haven’t had consistency in the three games I’ve been here.”

The Canadiens (32-21-8) have won their three games this season against the Maple Leafs (28-20-12).

“(The Canadiens) have had their way with us and we look forward to playing them,” Babcock said.