- Associated Press - Saturday, December 17, 2011

MONTREAL — Sloppy play, blown leads, a poor record at home.

It proved all too much for the last-place Montreal Canadiens, who fired coach Jacques Martin on Saturday and put assistant Randy Cunneyworth in charge for the rest of the season.

“The primary reason is the team wasn’t performing as well as it should be in our minds,” general manager Pierre Gauthier said at a Bell Centre news conference.

Assistant GM Larry Carriere was appointed assistant coach, his first coaching job after a long career in scouting and administration.

Martin, who preaches defense, was in his third season with the Canadiens. He is also one of the winningest coaches in NHL history.

He now gives way to Cunneyworth, a Toronto native whose lack of French was quickly noted. He is team’s first unilingual English-speaking coach since Al MacNeil in 1971. On a team that symbolizes French-Canadian pride, he faces a daunting task in his bid to remove the interim tag.

“I have the utmost respect for the language here and I am very aware of how important it is to try and learn the language,” Cunneyworth said after running his first practice. “Obviously I know a few words, and not all the good ones.”

Montreal, which hosts New Jersey on Saturday night, is at the bottom of the Northeast Division with a 13-12-7 record. However, they are just two points out of second place in a division led by Boston.

The 59-year-old Martin has also coached the Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators. Gauthier hired Martin in Ottawa. In 1996 in Ottawa, Martin inherited Cunneyworth as his hardworking captain.

“I would hope that my coaching style was similar to the way I played,” Cunneyworth said. “I felt for the most part that I competed very hard.”

Cunneyworth joined his former coach’s staff as an assistant this summer after spending the previous season as head coach of Montreal’s AHL affiliate in Hamilton.

“I have mixed emotions this time around,” said Cunneyworth, who began and ended his career with Buffalo and also played for Pittsburgh, Winnipeg, Hartford and Chicago. “There is still the excitement but my thoughts are with Jacques. … I have the utmost respect for Jacques and everything he does, the wealth of experience that I have learned over my times with him.”

Martin was in his 17th season in the NHL. He reached his 600th NHL career victory last April, making him the ninth winningest coach in league history.

The Canadiens have been hurt by mistakes this season. They are 5-6-6 at home, often squandering third-period leads.

“Especially in the last few weeks, we didn’t really know what was coming out of the box every night,” Gauthier said. “And the way we were losing the leads and the way we were coaching the games wasn’t very consistent, and that’s what we hope to change.”

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