MONTREAL – Teamwork was the hallmark of a Montreal Canadiens club that made it to last year’s Eastern Conference final.
In his mid-season review, general manager Pierre Gauthier said he’s for the players to come together again in the second-half of the 2010-2011 campaign.
“It’s as a group they’re going to get out of it just like it was as a group that they performed very well in the playoffs last year,” Gauthier said Thursday before Montreal’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Canadiens have been mired in a slump that has seen them win just three times in their last twelve games.
The team has already lost two key players on defence in Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges and neither is expected to return this year.
That means young defencemen P.K. Subban and Yannick Weber are playing more minutes, something Gauthier said the club will keep an eye on.
Montreal is currently carrying five players on its roster who have about half-a-season of NHL experience each under their belts.
But Gauthier said the goals haven’t changed: Win the division and make the playoffs.
And despite the bleak run, Gauthier said he can see a silver lining, a sign that things are getting better.
“We had a strong start and it’s going to happen to a lot of teams in the league that you’re going to end up in some kind of a slump like that,” Gauthier said. “But the thing that encourages me the most about this team … this group is all in, they’re all in, they all feel for what’s going on and they want to get out of this.”
The two best forwards in the AHL this season, David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty, are with the big club as the Habs try to coax some offence out of a snake-bitten group.
Gauthier indicated he may look to the farm again for more reinforcements, despite the youth on the roster already.
“We have a good group of veterans to lead them and monitor their progress both on the ice and off the ice and as the season goes along, we expect these players to contribute to our team,” Gauthier said.
The general manager is also satisfied with the play of goalie Carey Price, who came into the season looking to establish himself and breakout from under the shadow of last season’s playoff darling Jaroslav Halak.
“We’re very satisfied with Carey Price,” Gauthier said. “I don’t know the statistics of Mr. Halak, but I know that Carey Price is a good goaltender and he’s only 23 and very much at the heart of the team’s success.”
Gauthier and head coach Jacques Martin have said they hope for better five-on-five offensive production and a more disciplined style that helped the team to a strong start this season.
The Canadiens have been active on the trade front recently, dealing draft picks to the New York Islanders for defenceman James Wiesniewski on Dec. 28.
He also shipped out forward Maxim Lapierre to Anaheim just before the end of the calendar year.
As for being active leading up to the Feb. 28 trade deadline, the usually evasive Gauthier remained non-commital on making a move for a so-called rental player.
“We’ll monitor those things, I’m not a big fan of the trade deadline as you well know, I don’t believe in giving large assets for players that play 15-20 games for you in that season,” Gauthier said. “It’s very tough for players to connect with the team and build chemistry that quickly.
“Having said that, you have to keep all your options and that’s what we’ll do.”