DENVER — It was sunny in Denver Tuesday and the temperature climbed to 14 degrees.
It promises to be even warmer in Arizona Thursday and on the weekend in Las Vegas.
It’s hardly hockey weather, but Canadiens coach Claude Julien said he’s looking for a strong effort from his players on this four-game road trip, which winds up Tuesday in Philadelphia.
As coach, Julien refuses to accept that the Canadiens are out of the playoff hunt, and he said the mindset is the same as it was when the season began last October.
“Right now, we’re still using our personnel the way we feel we should use it to win hockey games,” Julien said Tuesday after the Canadiens practised in suburban Westminster in preparation for Wednesday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche (9:30 p.m., TSN2, RDS. TSN-690 Radio). “Having said that, there are a lot of young players who have really gotten better over the course of the season that are playing more now. It’s not because of the situation, but because they deserve it.”
Charles Hudon, Artturi Lehkonen, Victor Mete and the recently recalled Nikita Scherbak have all seen their ice time increased, and they have also been rewarded with power-play time.
“You look at our second power-play unit and those guys are very young, but they’re there because they deserve to be there,” Julien said. “That’s the encouraging part of our hockey club. We can see a lot of our young guys headed in the right direction, and that’s encouraging for me. We understand we still have to tweak our team here and there, but right now there’s a lot of good things beside the fact we’re not in the playoffs. It’s going to be a tough haul.”
Julien said he can’t afford to speculate on what will happen leading up to the trading deadline on Feb. 26 or on the moves that might be made in the off-season.
“I have to keep coaching the guys I have here (and) continue to try to improve,” said Julien, who was encouraged by the 3-2 shootout loss to Nashville Saturday at the Bell Centre.”There were so many good things that happened that last game, except we weren’t able to score that extra goal. I liked our game.”
This trip is important because Julien is hoping the Canadiens will adopt a different attitude on the road, where they have a dismal 8-16-1 record.
“We need a better approach to our game,” Julien said. “At home, we are playing to win, and on the road we’re playing cautious, afraid to lose. We have to play a little more on our toes. That’s something we have to overcome on this trip.
Scherbak played a career-high 16:29 Saturday night and has found a home on a top line with Jonathan Drouin and Alex Galchenyuk, but the extended road trip will be a challenge.
“I don’t think he should change his approach because he’s on the road,” Julien said. “He had at least three or four scoring chances last game. I’d like him to shoot a little more. He’s maybe overpassing, but that’s a young player keeping his linemates happy as well. His skating is better, he’s taking pucks to the net. His skill level is good. He has an opportunity.”
Drouin said he can understand Scherbak’s reluctance to shoot.
“Sometimes he thinks he has to pass the puck to us all the time, but it isn’t like that,” Drouin said. “It was the same for me the first year. I would never shoot; I was always looking for guys. As he gets more comfortable, he’s going to understand he can score from those areas.”
Wednesday’s game is the first in a back-to-back set with the Canadiens facing the Arizona Coyotes Thursday in Glendale, Ariz.