The Canadiens take five straight losses into a game Saturday night against the defending Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes, who have been hit even harder by injuries of late.
Media pundits and talk show callers have been clamouring for general manager Bob Gainey to make a trade with the club in an 8-16-1 slide and a once-secure playoff spot clearly in jeopardy.
“Every year you go through this,” defenceman Sheldon Souray said of the trade talk. “And playing in a city like Montreal, everyone has an opinion.”
“We’ve got one GM, not 300,000 of them. We worry about what we can control and we can’t control what goes on in the front office, There’s more speculation than usual. but that’s normal at this time, especially with us in the situation we’re in,”
That situation is a tie for the eighth and final playoff position in the East with Toronto and the New York Islanders.
They have lost their most talented forward Alexei Kovalev for two to three weeks with a sore left elbow and goaltender Cristobal Huet is out for an indefinite period with a left hamstring injury.
Coach Guy Carbonneau said he has yet to receive definitive word on how long Huet will be out of action, but he will not play against Carolina or Sunday in Columbus against the Blue Jackets.
“We’re waiting to hear if it’s days or weeks or months,” Carbonneau said.
Jaroslav Halak, who has excelled in the AHL with Hamilton this season, was called up to the NHL for the first time on Thursday.
Carbonneau did not confirm veteran David Aebischer would play in goal against the Hurricanes and said Halak may start a game on the weekend. Halak practised with the NHL club on Friday.
“We haven’t lost faith in David,” Carbonneau added. “That’s why we made the deal to get him (last March), so he’d be there if Cristobal isn’t there.
“Whatever decision we make will be for the best of the team. But Halak will be in the net at some point.”
Halak, a 21-year-old from Slovakia, was drafted 271st overall by Montreal in 2003 and spent the 2004-05 season with Lewiston in the QMJHL. He split last season between the ECHL and the AHL.
“I hope to play, but we’ll see,” said Halak, who outplayed the organization’s No. 3 goalie Yann Danis this season. “It’s my first call-up. I don’t really know what’s going to happen.”
Defenceman Craig Rivet, who has missed two games with pneumonia, will not play this weekend, but winger Mike Johnson, who also sat two games with a flu, was back on the ice Friday.
A surprise at practice was Kovalev’s appearance on the ice at the end for a skate on his own.
There was speculation that Kovalev’s pride was hurt more than his elbow after he was benched for most of the third period of his last game last Saturday against Ottawa, but Carbonneau doesn’t buy it.
“He’s been carrying that injury for a while,” said Carbonneau. “He said he played with painkillers and treatments.”
“A lot of nights, he had trouble handling the puck. The timing wasn’t good for us, but I’ll never doubt anyone that’s injured.”
The Hurricanes have injuries of their own.
On Thursday night, forward Justin Williams suffered an upper body injury and Bret Hedican left a game with a concussion. They were already missing Erik Cole to a hip pointer and Cory Stillman to a sprained knee.
The Hurricanes are seventh in the conference, but only one point ahead of Montreal, Toronto and the Islanders.
The Canadiens slump stems largely from an inability to score. They have only seven goals in their five straight losses.
Winger Chris Higgins has gone 14 games without a goal, despite numerous chances.
“I’m almost embarrassed at some of the chances I’ve had and missed,” he said. “I can’t look at the guys in the eyes after some of the chances I’ve missed.”
“But it seems like everyone’s doing that now, missing golden opportunities. To get out of this slump, somebody’s got to break out offensively. I hope it’s me, but I’m confident someone will step up.”
It all adds to the dark mood over the team’s woes in the city of late.
“What we’re trying to do is maintain a positive attitude,” Souray said. “We’ve gone through stretches in the past like this and we want to keep a good attitude and focus on results.