Canadiens open homestand hoping to halt slide

By Alan Ferguson
Stats Writer

Toronto (29-30-13) at Montreal (36-29-9), 7:00 p.m. EDT

MONTREAL (AP) — A coaching change hasn’t helped the Montreal
Canadiens end their slump. Poor defensive play hasn’t either.

Clinging to a playoff spot, the Canadiens open a five-game
homestand Saturday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs looking
to avoid a season-high fifth straight loss.

Montreal has one win since general manager Bob Gainey fired Guy
Carbonneau and assumed coaching duties March 9 – a 4-3 victory
over Edmonton in his debut the next evening. Since then, the
Canadiens are 0-2-2 and on their fourth losing streak of three
or more games since January 20, going 9-15-3 in that time.

They lost four straight from January 20-29 and February 6-11 but
haven’t dropped five in a row since a six-game skid from
February 6-17, 2007.

“Our team had been struggling for quite a while, and I think the
idea of changing the position of the coach was one to attempt to
increase our chances in the last 16 games of the season, and I
think we can judge how that goes when we finish our final game,”
Gainey said.

If Gainey’s team wants its final game to be at some point during
the playoffs, it needs to improve its defensive play. Montreal
goaltenders have given up at least three goals in each of the
last five games, and Carey Price’s struggles continued Thursday
night in Ottawa.

Price was pulled in the 5-4 defeat after giving up four goals in
the first 22:28, but Jaroslav Halak took the loss despite
helping Montreal get within a goal at the end of the second

Despite Guillaume Latendresse’s two scores and Tom Kostopoulos’
career-high three points, the Canadiens couldn’t get the
equalizer and dropped into a tie for seventh in the Eastern

Since returning from an ankle injury prior to starting the
All-Star game in Montreal, Price is 4-10-3 with a 3.56
goals-against average.

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“I’ve got to take responsibility. I can’t be letting goals in,”
he said. “It’s a group effort but I’ve got to play better.”

Gainey may turn to Halak on Saturday, as he’s allowed three
total goals in the Canadiens’ two victories over Toronto this
season, while Price has given up 11 in their two losses. Halak
is 3-1-0 with a 2.20 GAA in four lifetime appearances against
the Maple Leafs.

Should he start, Halak will need more help from Montreal’s
penalty killing units, which allowed the Senators to score on
both power-play opportunities Thursday. The Canadiens have given
up five power-play goals in the last 17 chances.

If the Canadiens don’t get back on track soon, Toronto could end
up passing them in the standings. The Leafs are 8-4-1 in their
last 13 games and totaled 11 goals in back-to-back victories
before Thursday night’s 3-1 loss at Florida.

Toronto couldn’t add to Mikhail Grabovski’s tying goal late in
the first period against the Panthers, who took the lead for
good with two second-period scores.

“We had chances, and we had good puck possession,” goaltender
Martin Gerber said. “In the second period, we just lost the
momentum, and they were on top of us for a while. We had a tough
time getting out of our zone. In the third, we tried everything
we could. We had some chances, but we couldn’t put it in.”

The acquisition of Gerber off waivers from Ottawa on March 4
hasn’t helped the NHL’s worst defensive team. Gerber is 3-3-0
with a 3.18 GAA since coming to Toronto, and the Leafs, who have
given up 248 goals, have allowed 16 in the last four games.