By Nicolino DiBenedetto
Atlanta (30-37-6) at Montreal (36-27-9), 7:30 p.m. EDT
MONTREAL (AP) — Entering their 100th season, the Montreal
Canadiens were expected to be a Stanley Cup contender. Six
months later, the organization is in disarray.
They’ve fired their coach, been booed at home, are enduring
their longest losing streak in more than two years and could be
up for sale.
The Canadiens hope a meeting with the Atlanta Thrashers on
Tuesday night can help them solve two of those issues.
Last season, Montreal (36-27-9) posted the best record in the
Eastern Conference before being upset in five games by
Philadelphia in the second round of the playoffs.
The 104-point regular season – Montreal’s best in 18 years –
prompted many observers to pick the Canadiens to win their 25th
Stanley Cup in 2008-09, coinciding with the team’s 100th
anniversary which the NHL celebrated by holding the All-Star
game at the Bell Centre.
Things haven’t quite gone according to plan. Struggling just to
make the playoffs, Montreal has 10 games remaining and is in a
tight race with Florida, Buffalo and the New York Rangers for
the final two spots.
The poor season cost coach Guy Carbonneau his job March 9, when
he was replaced by general manager Bob Gainey.
The change has had little effect, as the Canadiens followed an
overtime win in their first game under Gainey by going 0-3-2.
They lost 5-2 to Toronto on Saturday in their most recent
contest and were booed by the Bell Centre crowd.
The Canadiens haven’t dropped six consecutive games since Feb.
6-17, 2007, en route to missing the playoffs.
“We haven’t won a 60-minute game in a long time and really our
goal is to win a game where we play and we win the game and we
deserve to win the game,” Gainey said.
The club also announced Monday that it is exploring the
possibility of a sale as part of a plan by owner George Gillett
to sort out his varied holdings. Gillett owns 80.1 percent of
the team and the Bell Centre.
Maxim Lapierre has been one of the few bright spots of late for
Montreal. The center scored twice Saturday and has three goals,
an assist and a plus-6 rating over the last three games
following an eight-game point drought.
Montreal has dropped its last two meetings with Atlanta
(30-37-6), the most recent a 2-0 road defeat March 6. The
Canadiens took the first Bell Centre matchup 5-4 on Dec. 2.
The Thrashers have little chance of making the postseason,
sitting 13th in the East and 15 points back of Montreal with
nine games to go.
Slava Kozlov is in the midst of a late-season surge for Atlanta,
with four goals and eight assists in eight games since being
held without a point by Montreal on March 6. Three goals and six
assists during that span came on the power play, giving Kozlov a
league-leading 40 points with the man advantage, one more than
Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin.
Kozlov had a goal and an assist on the power play Saturday
before netting the winning score in a 4-3 shootout victory at
“We’re getting him to shoot more, thank goodness, and you can
see the results of that,” Thrashers coach John Anderson said.
“The hardest thing about him to defend is that he never does the
same thing twice.”
Kozlov has one assist in his last five games against Montreal.