Canadiens fire coach Claude Julien

General manager and former Canadiens player Bob Gainey will take over the head coaching duties on an interim basis.

Mired in a terrible losing slump, the Montreal Canadiens fired head coach Claude Julien on Saturday.

General manager and former Canadiens captain Bob Gainey will take over the head coaching duties on an interim basis. Guy Carboneau, a former teammate of Gainey's, will join him behind the bench as an assistant and will be named head coach at the end of the season.

Also fired was assistant coach Rick Green. Roland Melanson and Doug Jarvis will stay on as assistants.

Carbonneau, a former Canadiens captain during his playing days, was in his third season as an assistant GM in Dallas. He has been hired by Montreal as an associate coach and has already signed a contract to become head coach at the end of the 2005-06 campaign.

"We have to push back so that we're moving up the standings by putting points on the board, rather than the other direction," Gainey said at a news conference Saturday.

The Canadiens began the season on a tear with 12 wins in their first 16 games, but the team has struggled since Nov. 10 with just seven victories in 25 games.

That poor form has seen the club drop to fourth place in the Northeast Division and 10th in the Eastern Conference, three points back of Tampa Bay for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.

Montreal, which has only won three of its last 10 contests, hosts the San Jose Sharks Saturday night.

Carbonneau previously served as an assistant coach in Montreal from 2000 to 2002.

Carbonneau said the decision to return to Montreal was an easy one to make.

"I really enjoyed the experience when I came here five years ago, being behind the bench with (then-Canadiens coach) Michel Therrien," said Carbonneau, who has no head coaching experience. "I couldn't wait for a second chance to come back in a different position."

The firing of Julien came as a bit of a shock to the players.

"This one was a surprise," said Canadiens defenceman Craig Rivet during the team's morning skate. "None of us expected this at all.

"I think it's unfortunate that it's always the coach that takes the fall for lack of production from players. He gave us a game plan and guys maybe chose not to follow it. That's too bad because he's a good coach."

"The coach is our boss and he makes everyone accountable and if it doesn't happen, like in any job, the guy in charge pays the price," added team captain Saku Koivu. "But it's always unfortunate when it happens."

Julien was hired by the Habs on Jan. 17, 2003 – his first NHL coaching job – and guided the club to the second round of the playoffs in the 2003-04 season.

Julien leaves Montreal with a 72-62-10-5 record.

Drafted in 1973, Gainey spent 16 seasons with the Habs, winning five Stanley Cups.

Gainey played for Montreal from 1973 to 1989 and became head coach of the Minnesota North Stars in 1990. He served as coach and GM from 1992 to 1996, but later forgo his coaching duties to concentrate on being GM of the Minnesota/Dallas Stars organization.

He joined Montreal as GM in June 2003.

with files from Canadian Press