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Canadiens look to end six-game home winless run against Leafs

MONTREAL - It started on Nov.19 when the Ottawa Senators came to town and beat the Montreal Canadiens 4-2.

Montreal had a 5-2-2 home record before that game, but now they are 5-6-4 after going six straight games without a win at the Bell Centre.

They will try to end that string on Saturday night when Toronto visits, hard on the heels of the Maple Leafs' game Friday night in Atlanta.

There has been talk this week of the Canadiens equalling a club record for seven straight home losses set in 1939-40 and equalled in 2000-01, but technically it doesn't count because two of the losses were in shootouts, which would have been ties in those years.

Still, it's a bad patch coach Guy Carbonneau wants to be done with.

"It means a lot because, obviously, we want to perform well at home," he said Friday. "It's important to establish that."

"It's your house and when teams come in you want to make it hard for them to win. So it's never fun when you go through a sequence like we're going through now."

And injuries are starting to mount.

Left wingers Andrei Kostitsyn and Guillaume Latendresse sat out practice on Friday. Both will be evaluated on Saturday morning to see if they can play.

Kostitsyn injured his left knee when he was checked hard into the boards in the third period of a 4-1 victory in Philadelphia on Thursday night.

Carbonneau gave no word on what is ailing Latendresse, who did not look to be injured after going down to block a shot in the final minute against the Flyers.

The Canadiens were already missing forwards Bryan Smolinski (knee) and Steve Begin (shoulder) as well as defenceman Patrice Brisebois (shoulder).

If Kostitsyn and Latendresse can't play, the struggling Michael Ryder, a healthy scratch for two of the last four games, will return. And a forward will be kept on standby to fly in from the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs, likely Duncan Milroy, Jonathan Ferland or Matt d'Agostini.

Goaltender Cristobal Huet will see a doctor Saturday morning looking for clearance to return from a pulled groin. If he gets it, he may back up rookie Carey Price, who will start a sixth straight game.

Last week, Montreal called up defenceman Ryan O'Byrne and forward Maxim Lapierre from Hamilton. Sergei Kostitsyn, the younger brother of Andrei, joined the team for the game in Philadelphia and looked promsing on right wing with Saku Koivu and Chris Higgins.

He'll be in the same spot against Toronto.

"I think I played good," the 20-year-old said. "In the first period I was a little bit nervous. It was my first game in the NHL, but the second and third, I felt great."

He also got a message of congratulations for being called up from Sam Gagner of the Edmonton Oilers, his old linemate along with Chicago Blackhawks phenom Patrick Kanes with the junior London Knights.

The Canadiens are 2-1-1 against Toronto this season, but three of the games have gone either to overtime or a shootout.

In their last home game, Montreal needed a third period goal from Tomas Plekanec to force overtime against Tampa Bay, the worst road team in the league.

They lost that one in a shootout, but rebounded with a strong all around game in Philadelphia for their third win in their last four road games.

"In the last two games we had five good periods out of six - I think that's encouraging for Saturday," said Carbonneau, whose club is 10-5-1 away from home this season.

"We're trying to find a way out of it. Maybe not in all six games, but in some, we tried too hard and then made mistakes instead of being patient like we were (in Philadelphia). On the road. we're patient. At home, we try to push things too hard."


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