In the midst of losing their grip on first place, the Montreal Canadiens abruptly fired coach Michel Therrien on Tuesday and hired Claude Julien in hopes of getting their season back on track.
Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin made the announcement two days into his team's bye week. Julien was fired as coach of the Boston Bruins last week and predictions that the veteran wouldn't be out of work for long proved true.
At 1-5-1, the Canadiens are the NHL's worst team since the start of February, including a 4-0 loss to the Bruins. They next play Saturday against Winnipeg.
Therrien, 53, was in his fifth season of his second tour of duty as Canadiens coach and had three playoff appearances with a trip to the 2014 Eastern Conference final. They missed the playoffs last season after goaltender Carey Price injured his knee in November.
Owner Geoff Molson tweeted Tuesday afternoon: ''Michel Therrien, merci beaucoup pour tout, thank you for giving everything you had to our team.''
Therrien went 194-121-37 as coach of the Canadiens this time around.
He was also fired and replaced by Julien 46 games into the 2002-03 season. This time, it took 58 games.
''The decision to remove Michel from his coaching duties was a difficult one because I have lots of respect for him,'' Bergevin said in a statement. ''I came to the conclusion that our team needed a new energy, a new voice, a new direction.''
That will come from Julien, who returns to Montreal, where he coached from 2003-2006. He won the Stanley Cup with the Bruins in 2011 and was the longest-tenured coach in the NHL until last week.
Julien has coached 997 regular-season games and will hit the 1,000 milestone behind the Canadiens' bench on Feb. 23.
Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz joked that Julien would find another job within five minutes. It took seven days. The Canadiens had to get permission to speak with Julien before hiring him because the 56-year-old was still under contract.
''Claude Julien is an experienced and well-respected coach with a good knowledge of the Montreal market,'' Bergevin said. ''Today we hired the best available coach and one of the league's best. I am convinced that he has the capabilities to get our team back on the winning track.''
The Canadiens are atop the Atlantic Division with 70 points at 31-19-8 and have a six-point lead on the Bruins and Ottawa Senators. But they've played six more games than Ottawa and have struggled lately despite getting Alex Galchenyuk and other previously injured players back in their lineup.
Therrien is the fifth coach fired this season, following Julien, Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues, Jack Capuano of the New York Islanders and Gerard Gallant of the Florida Panthers. It's the 39th time an NHL coach has been fired midseason over the past 10 years, more than the NFL, NBA or MLB over the same time span.
This is the third time Therrien has been fired during the season. The last time came in the winter of 2009 when the Pittsburgh Penguins replaced him with Dan Blysma and went on to win the Cup four months later.
Therrien is the first coach to be fired with his team leading its division this late in the season since Ottawa's John Paddock on Feb. 27, 2008.
The quick move is reminiscent of 2011, when Bruce Boudreau took over as coach of the Anaheim Ducks two days after being fired by the Capitals.
A team spokesman said the Canadiens would hold a news conference Wednesday to discuss the franchise's sixth in-season coaching change over the past 16 years.