MONTREAL -- Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin announced Wednesday that head coach Claude Julien and his assistant Kirk Muller have been fired.

"I would like to sincerely thank Claude and Kirk for their contribution to our team during the last five years that we have worked together. I have a lot of respect for these two men whom I hold in high esteem," said Bergevin.

Dominique Ducharme will take over as interim head coach and Alex Burrows will join the coaching staff.

"In Dominique Ducharme, we see a very promising coach who will bring new life and new energy to our group," said Bergevin. "We feel that our team can achieve high standards and the time has come to make these changes."

After a one-week break in their schedule, the Canadiens have lost three in a row. They've lost five of six and six of eight since a strong start.

 A 5-4 shootout loss in Ottawa against the Senators on Tuesday night marked the end of the line for Julien, who returned for his second go-round as Montreal's coach midway through the 2016-17 season.

The Canadiens were battling the Toronto Maple Leafs for top spot in the North Division earlier in the season but have since dropped into fourth.

Julien had to leave the team during the first round of the playoffs last year in Toronto when he had a stent installed in a coronary artery. Muller took over the head coaching duties and the Habs extended the top-seeded Philadelphia Flyers to six games before bowing out.

The Habs were the lowest-ranked team to qualify for the 24-team post-season last year and then upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the qualifying round.

Assist and coach Luke Richardson and goaltending coach Stéphane Waite will retain their respective responsibilities on the team.

Ducharme, 47, has now been promoted to interim head coach after two seasons as assistant coach.

A Joliette, Quebec-native Ducharme joined the Canadiens coaching staff in April 2018 after spending 10 seasons behind the bench in the QMJHL, winning the Memorial Cup with the Halifax Mooseheads at the end of the 2012-2013 season.

Bergevin and Ducharme will address the media as the team arrives in Winnipeg this afternoon.

-- this report by the Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2021.