MONTREAL – The Boston Bruins can’t score, but the Montreal Canadiens can’t keep the puck out of their net.
So what will give when the two old rivals collide for the first time this season on Thursday night in Boston?
The 6-7-1 Bruins, missing star centre Marc Savard and bruising winger Milan Lucic to injuries, have been shut out in their last two games – 1-0 by the Rangers in New York on Sunday and 2-0 by the Red Wings in Detroit on Tuesday night.
The 7-8-0 Canadiens, playing without defencemen Andrei Markov, Ryan O’Byrne and Hal Gill, have given up 20 goals in their last five games and are coming off a 5-4 loss at home to the Atlanta Thrashers.
Montreal defenceman Josh Gorges says all that is set aside when these two teams meet.
“It’s a lot similar to when we play Toronto – you don’t look at the lineup or who is out,” Gorges said Wednesday. “You don’t look at the records.
“I don’t think any of that matters when it comes to Boston-Montreal. We know the emotion that takes over in these games. It’s going to be a hard-fought battle. Both teams need the win and I think, both teams have a respectful hatred for each other and that drives the game.”
For Gorges, even the team’s uneven record against Boston over the past two seasons isn’t a factor.
Two seasons ago, the Montreal finished first in the NHL Eastern Conference thanks in part to an 8-0 record against Boston.
Last season, the Bruins were first in the East, partly by posting a 5-0-1 record against Montreal. The Bruins also swept the Canadiens in the opening round of playoffs, giving them nine straight wins against the red, white and blue.
“We have so many new guys, not everyone here lost those games last year to Boston,” said Gorges, whose team saw 11 players leave and eight more move in since last season. “It’s a whole new squad.
“It’s not about last year. We have to focus on this year.”
The Bruins began the season billed as Stanley Cup contenders, with only a few changes on the roster that went 53-19-10 in 2008-09 and was second in the 30-team league with an average of 3.29 goals scored per game.
This season their 33 goals in 14 games places them 27th at 2.21 goals per game. Savard, who played only seven games before he broke a foot, shares the team lead of four goals with Patrice Bergeron and Blake Wheeler.
Marco Sturm, whose return from injury this season was hoped to replace the scoring lost when Phil Kessel was traded to Toronto, has two goals. David Krejci, a 73-point man last season, has one goal and four assists. Towering defenceman Zdeno Chara has not been near his Norris Trophy form of 2008-09.
The Boston power play – one of the league’s best last season – is last in the league with only six goals in 52 attempts for an 11.5 average. Montreal’s is not much better – 25th with a 14.3 per cent success rate. Both are in the bottom 10 in penalty killing – Boston 22nd at 78 per cent and Montreal 24th at 75.8 per cent.
“If anything, we will have to play that much harder,” said Gorges. “You know they’re going to be desperate to score. You throw pucks on net, you have guys crashing and banging, looking for garbage goals. So we can’t give them time to make plays and set up. We have to be in their face and force them to make tough plays.”
The Canadiens have had problems of their own with only one win in regulation time in 15 games and a 2-5-0 record on the road.
The Canadiens looked to have their early season defensive woes under control when they held opponents to 23 or fewer shots during a five-game stretch, but in their last five, they have allowed 31 or more. They’ve been scoring goals of late, but their 3.33 goals per game allowed is 25th best in the league.
Veteran Brian Gionta missed practice for what the team called a “therapy day,” but they also recalled forwards Tom Pyatt and Ryan White from AHL Hamilton.
When asked whether Gionta would play in Boston, coach Jacques Martin said “We hope he will be there.”
With their injuries, power-play specialist Marc-Andre Bergeron has been taking a regular shift on the third defence pair and there have been a succession of young call-ups from Hamilton, including Mathieu Carle, who made his NHL debut on Tuesday night.
“We need to be better without the puck,” said Martin, who preaches defensive hockey. “A lack of attention to details is costing us.
“We need to play more as a team. It’s not only the defencemen, it’s the forwards as well who need to come back and help out the defence.”
Martin would not say which of his goaltenders will start in Boston, although Jaroslav Halak would be likely. Against Atlanta, Carey Price lost a sixth start in a row and saw his goals-against average rise to 3.64 and his save percentage fall to .883. Halak is 5-2-0 with a 2.85 average and a .893 save percentage.
But it is hard for a goalie to shine when his team is playing weak defensive hockey.
“We weren’t moving as a five-man unit,” said Gorges. “We were too far back and they picked us apart and entered our zone far too easily.”
Martin said Gill, who sat out the Atlanta game, has a hairline fracture in a foot, but did not put a timeline on when he may return.
Notes: The Bruins recalled Mikko Lehtonen on Wednesday from the AHL’s Providence Bruins on an emergency basis.