Lemaire has changed the tone of practices as well. "He knows there's no point working on conditioning in March," says Robinson. "We're already in shape." Lemaire's practices have been marked by frequent halts for group and individual instruction, accompanied by much gesticulating and an occasional demonstration by Lemaire, who says, "I leave no doubt about exactly what I want or that I expect to have it."
One of the biggest things Lemaire intends to have is a happy and productive Lafleur. Lemaire, who often centered Lafleur's line, has enormous regard for the Flower's fading but still considerable talents, and appears to have a deft touch with the Lafleur ego. On Thursday in Detroit, with the Canadiens nursing a 2-1 third-period lead, Lafleur muffed two golden power play chances, and when he got to the Canadiens bench, Lemaire said, "Get a little rest, but then I'm sending you right back in. And this time I want a goal."
Within two minutes Lafleur was back on the ice, taking a lead pass at the blue line and burying a low 35-footer from the right side for his 30th goal of the season, the first time in four years he has reached that total. And since Lemaire's ascendancy, Lafleur has canned Retirement Hint Speech 23-B and talks of playing the next—and last—year of his contract, "and then maybe the option year, too."
On Saturday night in Calgary, Steve Shutt—another Lemaire linemate who had been in Berry's doghouse—scored
early in the first period to ignite a 3-1 Montreal victory and give Team Lemaire a 3-0 record. But on Sunday, the Canadiens lost 6-1 in Edmonton.
Besides winning games and bolstering the sagging confidence of his players, Lemaire also is restoring a feeling of bonhomie to the Canadiens, as could be seen in a Detroit restaurant early Friday morning. As Lemaire and assistant coach Jacques Laperri�re walked from the back of the restaurant to the door, they came upon a table of four veteran players in the company of a dozen mostly empty beer glasses. There was no team curfew in effect—Berry had riled the Canadiens with his frequent bed checks—but players and coaches locked eyes for a moment. Then one of the veterans unfolded a cocktail napkin and held it over part of his face.
"You do not recognize us," he said to Lemaire, who laughed all the way to the door.
It's no joke, though, that the guys playing for Jacques Lemaire look a lot more like the Montreal Canadiens than they did just two weeks ago.