BROSSARD, Que. - Following GM Pierre Gauthier's apology Monday, it was interim Coach Randy Cunneyworth's turn to feed the drama Tuesday as he once again addressed his language deficit.

Cunneyworth said he is working on learning French and hopes that significant strides will be made by the time the decision is made on who will be behind the bench next season.

"My priority is to win games," he said after Tuesday's workout in Brossard. "The language is secondary but it's very important to me. I know it's important here and I would love to talk hockey with fans in both languages."

Gauthier's decision to dump the veteran Martin and promote Cunneyworth to his first NHL head coaching job has come under heavy criticism. Some politicians even weighed in by slamming the move.

The coach said, though, that he hasn't had time to concern himself with the media storm that followed his hiring, two and a half weeks ago.

"I have not had time to worry with the issue of language," he acknowledged. "But rest assured that (French) is something I continue to learn."

"Besides, you cannot help but learn when there are as many francophones in the entourage of the team," Cunneyworth said, referring to players, but also staff.

Owner Geoff Molson and general manager Pierre Gauthier have promised they will have a coach who can speak French in place for the 2012-13 campaign. That appeared to rule out the unilingual Cunneyworth, but the Toronto native doesn't see it that way.

"I hope that over the months, being in this environment, I can familiarize myself more with the French language," he said. "This is an ongoing process."

The Habs' three-week slump hasn't helped matters. The team has only one win in the last eight games, including a 1-6-0 record under Cunneyworth.

The Canadiens have dropped to 13th place in the Eastern Conference standings, eight points out of a playoff position, heading into a home game against the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday night.

They are entering a make-or-break stretch in which they play 11 of the 15 games at home. If they don't use that to go on a winning run, they will likely miss the post-season for the first time since 2006-07.

The trouble is, they are 5-7-6 at the Bell Centre so far this season.

The Canadiens have rarely been blown out. But they have blown leads or given up weak goals late in games that cost them points. Eliminating mistakes has been Cunneyworth's biggest challenge.

They hope to get a boost from the return of captain Brian Gionta, who has been out with an undisclosed injury. He skated with the team for the first time since he was hurt Dec. 8 against Vancouver.

Gionta won't play against the Jets, but hopes to be ready for Saturday's home game against Tampa Bay.

Centre Scott Gomez and winger Ryan White are back on the ice but are not ready to skate with the team. Defenceman Andrei Markov, who has yet to play this season, will not return from reconstructive knee surgery until after the all-star break.

With files from the Canadian Press