Rebuilding Canadiens set for clash with Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche are coming into Montreal for the second game of a back-to-back set, but it might be the Canadiens who are feeling more weary.

The Canadiens fired general manager Marc Bergevin, assistant general manager Trevor Timmins and senior vice president of public affairs and communications Paul Wilson on Sunday and brought in former New York Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton to serve as executive vice president of hockey operations.

The Canadiens are still dealing with these changes while getting ready to host Colorado on Thursday night.

The front office changes came after a poor start to the season, which came on the heels of a Stanley Cup Finals appearance for the Canadiens. Montreal lost its first five games this season and finished 4-8-2 in November.

The most recent loss came against a struggling Vancouver team on Monday night, a day after ownership cleaned house in the front office.

“It was obviously two emotional days,” Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme said after the 2-1 loss to the Canucks. “We all worked with Marc on the day-to-day, 3 1/2 years for myself. He’s someone I have a lot of respect for, and a lot of our veterans lose someone that had the success and happiness of everyone at heart.”

Montreal has struggled defensively over the last month. After beating Detroit 3-0 on Nov. 2, the Canadiens allowed 3.9 goals a game and gave up five or more goals in five of those games.

The Canadiens have struggled offensively as well. Montreal is averaging just 2.29 goals a game this season, and its leading scorer, Josh Anderson, has just seven this season.

Montreal is hosting an Avalanche squad that is coming off an 8-3 loss in Toronto on Wednesday night, which started a five-game road trip. Colorado is nearly back to full strength with Nathan MacKinnon’s return to the lineup against the Maple Leafs.

He had missed the previous eight games with a lower-body injury, but the Avalanche responded by going 6-2-0 in his absence. Nazem Kadri, who made his return to Toronto where he played his first nine seasons, picked up the scoring slack with 17 points while MacKinnon was out.

“He’s been fantastic, simple as that,” coach Jared Bednar said of Kadri. “Even more so with Nate out of the lineup. I’m impressed with what he’s doing.”

MacKinnon logged 21:40 of ice time in his return and had an assist on Colorado’s first goal of the game, and Kadri had two goals to reach 200 for his career. He has points in 12 of his last 13 games.

The Avalanche are still dealing with injuries. Center J.T. Compher has been out since Nov. 13 with an upper-body injury and defenseman Ryan Murray left Saturday’s win over Nashville in the first period. He is expected to miss multiple games.

More concerning is the status of goaltender Darcy Kuemper. He was scheduled to start Wednesday night but suffered an upper-body injury in pregame warmups. Jonas Johansson started against the Maple Leafs, and University of Toronto’s Jett Alexander served as the emergency goaltender.

Colorado recalled Justus Annunen from the AHL and he will join the Avalanche in Montreal, which indicates Kuemper will not be available.