MONTREAL – Chris Higgins had a good view Thursday night of what life is like when you’re not on the Montreal Canadiens top line.
Higgins played at least a shift on every other forward line and watched as the trio of Alex Kovalev, Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn accounted for all of the Canadiens offence for a second game in a row in Montreal’s 4-2 loss at home to the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs.
Montreal’s last six goals – including all four in a 4-3 win over Ottawa on Tuesday – have come from the Plekanec line.
“It’s when you lose that it hits home that you’re not doing your job,” said Higgins, who has only one goal and three assists in his last 15 games. “You just keep digging yourself into a deeper hole when you’re not contributing and you see only those guys playing great hockey. When you lose, it’s tough falling asleep at night.”
Higgins is far from the only Canadiens forward who isn’t scoring right now, but that’s not head coach Guy Carbonneau’s biggest concern.
He’s more worried about the fact the Canadiens have allowed at least three goals in five of their last seven games.
“Forget the fact that we only have one line that scores, we’re not playing well defensively right now,” Carbonneau said. “We’re giving up three goals a game, four goals tonight, and that’s not our team.
“The last two months, we’ve been playing really well defensively and that’s where it starts.”
Besides Higgins, captain Saku Koivu has two goals and four assists in his last 13 games and Michael Ryder – the team’s leading goal scorer the last two seasons – has only eight goals all year and was a healthy scratch the last three games.
Carbonneau tried to shuffle things up Thursday by putting Koivu with 20-year-old wingers Guillaume Latendresse and Sergei Kostitsyn, while Higgins started the game with Maxim Lapierre and Mathieu Dandenault but eventually found his way onto the other two lines.
“I’ll take the heat for not scoring, I’ll take that every time I don’t score and (the first line) plays well,” Higgins said. “You’re only as good as your depth, and we need scoring from myself and the other lines.”