And after Toronto whipped Montreal 4-1 Saturday, the Habs are hoping recent history repeats itself.
In the immediate aftermath of the Leafs’ 4-1 win, though, the Canadiens players were sounding anything but positive, especially after struggling again against a division rival they’re battling for a playoff berth.
“I think we’ve had five games now against (the Leafs), and we haven’t been able to figure them out,” said head coach Guy Carbonneau, whose team is winless in regulation (2-2-1) against Toronto this season. “We’re going to have to raise our level of play, and everybody’s going to have to be on board.”
Even with the loss, the Canadiens (27-18-5) still are seven points ahead of the Leafs (23-21-6) in the Eastern Conference standings. But for defenceman Sheldon Souray, that fact made Saturday’s loss even harder to swallow.
“I would definitely say (the Leafs) are not better than us,” said Souray, whose Habs were beaten 5-1 by Toronto the last time they were at the ACC Nov. 11.
“We’ve shown over the last 50 games we’re a better team than them. (But) every time we play them, they get emotionally ready, they pick their game up another gear or two, and we don’t match it.”
Souray says the Leafs don’t have more talent than the Canadiens, but have used a no-nonsense game plan to give Montreal fits.
“They don’t make any excuses,” Souray said of the Leafs. “They get the puck in deep on us; they make it hard on us; they get shots, and they’re doing what they can do with the people they’ve got. They make it tough on us, and we are easy to play against.”
The Canadiens host another Northeast division rival Monday when the Ottawa Senators travel to the Bell Centre. With their 3-1 win over Boston Saturday, the Sens have passed Montreal in the standings, but Carbonneau said his players aren’t about to squeeze their sticks any harder in the 32 regular-season games they have remaining.
“We know (the intensity is) going to be like this until the end (of the season),” Carbonneau said. “We’re not going to panic because we lost the game. I’m not happy about it, I’m sure (the players) aren’t happy, and they know we have to be better. But we still have a lot of games left.”
Nevertheless, Souray has noticed a disturbing pattern the Canadiens have fallen into as of late. It isn’t one he’s proud of.
“The last 15 or 18 games, we’ve just been soft,” said Souray. “There’s really no other reason for it than that we’re just not committed to doing what we have to do.”