BROSSARD, Que. – Brian Gionta beat reporters to the punch Friday.
“It’s a new day,” the Canadiens captain said with a smile before he was even asked a question the Montreal Canadiens’ humiliating defeat in Boston the night before.
There wasn’t much else to say.
Thursday’s 7-0 loss ended any real chance for the Canadiens to catch the Bruins for first place in the Northeast Division and did nothing to avenge the hit by Boston captain Zdeno Chara that sent Max Pacioretty to hospital with a concussion and a fractured neck vertebra.
But the Canadiens have decided to turn the page, treat it as just another game on a long schedule, and focus their thoughts on the Washington Capitals, who visit the Bell Centre on Saturday night after playing Friday night in Ottawa.
It was a second shutout loss in a row since the Canadiens had their own 8-1 laugher victory last Sunday in Minnesota.
“The last two outings weren’t what we wanted for sure, but we’ve got seven games left to try to find some answers and find our game,” added Gionta. “We’ve got some good challenges too—good teams that will really test us.
“In Boston, it was a 3-0 game, we started doing things right in the second period, but in the third they got a couple of goals and it was over. It was a little deceiving. It wasn’t 7-0. It wasn’t our best effort either.”
Still, with all the build-up to the game, the Canadiens looked nothing like a team trying to assert itself against a bitter rival or win one for their badly injured teammate, as many of their fans had hoped.
“A lot of people say we didn’t respond, but I don’t know what we were supposed to respond to,” said rookie defenceman P.K. Subban. “We’re just playing hockey out there.
“It’s just a game. We’re a team that’s fighting for a playoff spot and that’s our focus now. Whatever happened before with the (Pacioretty) incident and all that, that was just something in the past. Our focus wasn’t on revenge or anything. It was on us playing our game.”
There have been a few sub-par efforts lately.
After starting March with a five-game winning run that put them solidly in playoff territory, the Canadiens have gone 3-5-0, including a 6-3 loss to the Rangers in New York on March 18 and the pasting in Boston.
They remain in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, but the seventh-place Rangers are creeping closer. They also wasted a chance to get within a point of Boston for third place, and now sit five points behind the Bruins, who have two games in hand.
Coach Jacques Martin led a team meeting before practice Friday to go over what went wrong in their latest five-game segment, with particular emphasis on the Boston debacle.
“I talked about urgency, determination, paying the price, blocking shots,” said Martin. “You analyse that game and the previous five games and you make the adjustments you need.
“We need to shoot the puck more on net, we need a better net presence. In the last two games, I can’t recall any second chances or rebound chances.”
Gionta added they need to work harder to get the puck more quickly out of their own zone so they can go on attack.
Their practice Friday was devoted almost entire to play in the attacking zone and on their once-potent power play, which has scored only twice in 27 chances over the past eight games. In Boston, they even gave up a shorthanded goal during a two-man advantage.
But that was one of many indignities.
On their last trip to Boston on Feb. 9, they were beaten 8-6 and saw some their smaller, less physical players pounded in fights with the bigger Bruins.
The Canadiens got them back by outskating them in a 4-1 win March 8 in Montreal, but lost one of their most productive forwards when Pacioretty ran head first into a stanchion near the players benches after a nasty hit from Chara.
The hit and the fact that Chara escaped suspension was the talk of the league for a week, coming as it did in the midst of debate over concussions and hits to the head.
But if vengeance was on any Canadien’s mind, it didn’t show in a listless meeting in Boston. What was worse for Montreal was that the Bruins stuck to hockey and outdid the Canadiens at their own game—skating, passing and shooting.
The Canadiens still won their season series 4-2 over the Bruins, but the one-sided loss showed they will have a tough battle if, as looks likely, they meet in the first round of playoffs.
Subban said the message from their coach was to snap out of their lethargy.
“At this point of the season everyone is playing playoff hockey,” he said. “Teams are trying to situate themselves in the standings and we have to be ready to compete every night.
“We figured that out when we didn’t come out ready to play. So maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe it’s a reality check for us.”
The Canadiens got four injured players back for the game in Boston—forwards Tomas Plekanec, Jeff Halpern and Mathieu Darche and defenceman Brent Sopel. Pacioretty and rearguards Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges, Jaroslav Spacek and Alexandre Picard remain out of action.
Picard was injured this week when hit by a shot during practice.
Carey Price, pulled after five goals in Boston, will start in goal against Washington.