MONTREAL – Bob Gainey wants each player on the Montreal Canadiens to know exactly what’s expected of him.
That was the message on Tuesday as Gainey took to the ice for a short skate with the team a day after the general manager fired Guy Carbonneau and took over head coaching duties for the second time in three seasons. He coached his first game since the changeover on Tuesday night – a 4-3 overtime win over the Edmonton Oilers.
“After a few days, I hope to be able to give the players some key messages that there are places they will be corrected on,” said Gainey. “That will give them concentration – that they need to do this particular thing, or they’ll be corrected on it.
“Try to give them boundaries, parameters, direction and feedback – done well, (or) not done well.”
A lack of communication with the players was one of the knocks against Carbonneau in his two-plus season as head coach. That does not look like it will be a problem with Gainey, the Canadiens captain in the 1980s who has coached 456 NHL games on and off with the Dallas and Montreal franchises over the last 17 years.
He last stepped behind the Canadiens bench in 2006 after firing Claude Julien and took the team to the playoffs, where they lost in the first round to eventual Stanley Cup winner Carolina. Carbonneau took over for the 2006-07 season.
“It’s nice having him back there,” defenceman Mike Komisarek said of Gainey. “We had some success the last time he was there.
“He’s a calm presence. I don’t think I’ve ever had a coach who is as knowledgeable about the game as him and it’s up to us to respond and finish the season strong.”
Gainey made his presence felt from the moment he took to the ice – wearing trousers instead of the usual coach’s sweat pants.
He had Komisarek back on the top pairing with Andrei Markov, replacing Mathieu Schneider, who had worked with the Russian since he was acquired three weeks ago from Atlanta. Schneider is now paired with the steady Josh Gorges.
And he had versatile Mathieu Dandenault, who was out of favour with Carbonneau, back in the lineup as a forward on the fourth line. He spent a few moments chatting with Dandenault on the ice.
Another change was the presence of Don Lever, formerly coach of the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs, who was brought to Montreal as an assistant.
Gainey called Lever a “a new face, a new voice” and said he can also help young players he had coached in Hamilton like Matt d’Agostini, Jarsolav Halak, Greg Stewart, Max Pacioretty and Ryan O’Byrne.
Ron Wilson – the one who once played for Montreal and not the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs – moved up to head coach of Hamilton and Sergio Momesso, who was a player development consultant for the Canadiens, was named assistant coach of the Bulldogs.
The Canadiens had won five of their previous seven games before the coaching change, including a 3-1 win in Dallas in Carbonneau’s last game. But Gainey hasn’t liked what he’s seen from the club since just before the Jan. 25 all-star game, when the team started a slide in which it won only three of 15 games.
The team was consistently being hemmed in its own zone and outshot by wide margins. The defence was running around in its own zone and goaltender Carey Price lost his confidence and started letting in soft goals.
Gainey wants better structure in the team’s play, so they spend more time in the attacking zone, and better concentration.
“When we score a goal, it’s important that the goal stays on the scoreboard,” he said. “We don’t want to give back an easy goal to the other team.”
Captain Saku Koivu said the team felt changes may be made in February, when they lost 5-2 at home to Toronto and then were shellacked 6-2 in Calgary and 7-2 in Edmonton.
But with the wins they had picked up recently, however ugly they were, the players were surprised when they got the news on Monday after they arrived from Dallas.
“I didn’t feel that the players weren’t there for (Carbonneau) or weren’t playing for him – that’s not true,” said Koivu. “But sometimes things aren’t going the way you want and ultimately, he’s our boss and he’s responsible to get results and together we failed to deliver.”
Koivu acknowledged that Carbonneau was not big on talking to his players, but said that style suits some players and not others. After all, the Canadiens finished first in the NHL Eastern Conference last season under Carbonneau, who was a coach of the year candidate.
“As long as you’re winning, everybody’s happy,” he said. “We didn’t get the wins and points we were looking for.
“You learn from your mistakes and experiences and for him, maybe from here on, he’s going to change his style. Who knows? But yeah, that probably wasn’t the strong point of his coaching – communicating. But we all have our weaknesses.”
And those who felt left out by Carbonneau likely won’t feel that way with Gainey.
“We all know Bob – he’s honest, he’s fair, he’ll give the news straight to your face, good or bad,” added Koivu. “And I guess that’s what we’re looking for right now.”