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Canadiens look for better on-ice communication to end three-game skid

BROSSARD, Que. - The slumping Montreal Canadiens feel they need to talk.

But it is not a meeting or group therapy that coach Guy Carbonneau wants from his team after three straight losses. It is practical, on-ice talking, such as telling linemates where you are and letting them know when an opponent is zeroing in on them.

"It's something that bugs me sometimes," Carbonneau said Wednesday. "It's something I've talked about with the players since I've been here - trying to get more communication. Sometimes they just stop doing it. I don't know why."

They hope to be far more vocal on Thursday night when they try to end their skid against the visiting Philadelphia Flyers, who have only one regulation time defeat in their last 17 games.

The Canadiens are coming off losses of 3-1 to Tampa Bay and 2-1 to Washington at home followed by a 3-2 defeat on Tuesday in Carolina, where they took 11 minor penalties and gave up three power-play goals.

A plus for Montreal is that it mostly outplayed both the Capitals and the Hurricanes, but continuing problems in finding the net left them short on the scoreboard.

With the losses, Carbonneau found his team had become literally too quiet on the ice and on the bench. He addressed that problem in a short speech on ice at their suburban practice facility.

"We need to support each other more on the ice," said centre Tomas Plekanec. "One guy is working hard and he looks stupid when he's losing his battle (for the puck) and there's two guys standing 10 feet away. We need to help each other."

Defenceman Josh Gorges said talking is a habit players can fall out of.

"It's a matter of being prepared," he said. "When you're into the game and you're focused, you're talking.

"Like last game, we took a lot of penalties. Some guys don't kill penalties. They kind of drift out a bit. Then you kind of fall asleep and guys get frustrated and you're not concentrating on your game. That's one thing we have to make sure - that we stay focused and support each other."

Some help should come from the return of big defenceman Mike Komisarek, who is expected to be cleared by a team doctor on Thursday to come back from a shoulder injury suffered in a fight with Boston's Milan Lucic on Nov. 13. He has missed 16 games.

"He's such a big part of our team," Gorges said of Komisarek. "He brings an element not a lot of guys in the league can bring - his physical play, his intimidation.

"But he also makes that great first pass."

Komisarek skated hard and even got in some physical contact, which didn't please the ones getting bumped but made his coach smile.

"Mike maybe wanted to show us he's ready and wants to play," said Carbonneau.

Komisarek usually plays on Montreal's top defence pair with Andrei Markov and his return should let Gorges return to another pairing and could bump the struggling Ryan O'Byrne from the lineup.

The Canadiens also hope that star winger Alex Kovalev will start scoring again after he ended a 19-game goal-less drought with a short-handed effort in Carolina.

Kovalev has been reunited with Plekanec and left-winger Andrei Kostitsyn, which was Montreal's top line last season when the team finished first in the Eastern Conference. The trio didn't have the same success to start this season and has been broken up for weeks.

Plekanec is without a point in his last six games and has only one goal in his last nine, while Kostitsyn has gone five games without a point.

"Last year they were one of the best lines in the league," said Carbonneau. "They're the same players. They have the same skills. I don't see why they can't do it again.

"But we need our best players to be there every night. Not just those three. And they don't have to score every night, but we need them to be part of the game every night."

He said that enforcer Georges Laraque may also be ready to return from a sore groin. Laraque, who has missed four games, skated with fourth-liners Max Lapierre, Steve Begin and Tom Kostopoulos.

Robert Lang was at centre between Alex Tanguay and rookie Matt D'Agostini, while a kid line was formed of centre Ben Maxwell with wingers Guillaume Latendresse and Sergei Kostitsyn.

They are up against a Philadelphia loaded with players who are on fire.

The hottest is Mike Richards with 15 points in his last eight games. In the last three games, Scott Hartnell has four goals and an assist, Mike Knuble has three goals and an assist and defenceman Timmo Kimonen had six assists. Jeff Carter has four goals in five games.

In goal for a fifth straight game for Montreal will be Jaroslav Halak, who is 1-3 since taking over from the injured Carey Price despite looking sharp and allowing only nine goals in four games.

"It feels good, but I'm not getting the victories," Halak said. "We have to find a way to stay out of the penalty box and win the game."

Price and injured captain Saku Koivu skated before the main team took the ice. Carbonneau said both could be ready by the weekend, but neither will play on Thursday night.

The Canadiens and Flyers have split their two meetings this season, with Montreal winning 5-3 at Philadelphia on Oct. 13 and the Flyers winning 2-1 in Montreal on Nov. 15.



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