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Canadiens open homestand hoping to halt slide

By Alan Ferguson

Stats Writer

Toronto (29-30-13) at Montreal (36-29-9), 7:00 p.m. EDT

MONTREAL (AP) -- A coaching change hasn't helped the Montreal

Canadiens end their slump. Poor defensive play hasn't either.

Clinging to a playoff spot, the Canadiens open a five-game

homestand Saturday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs looking

to avoid a season-high fifth straight loss.

Montreal has one win since general manager Bob Gainey fired Guy

Carbonneau and assumed coaching duties March 9 - a 4-3 victory

over Edmonton in his debut the next evening. Since then, the

Canadiens are 0-2-2 and on their fourth losing streak of three

or more games since January 20, going 9-15-3 in that time.

They lost four straight from January 20-29 and February 6-11 but

haven't dropped five in a row since a six-game skid from

February 6-17, 2007.

"Our team had been struggling for quite a while, and I think the

idea of changing the position of the coach was one to attempt to

increase our chances in the last 16 games of the season, and I

think we can judge how that goes when we finish our final game,"

Gainey said.

If Gainey's team wants its final game to be at some point during

the playoffs, it needs to improve its defensive play. Montreal

goaltenders have given up at least three goals in each of the

last five games, and Carey Price's struggles continued Thursday

night in Ottawa.

Price was pulled in the 5-4 defeat after giving up four goals in

the first 22:28, but Jaroslav Halak took the loss despite

helping Montreal get within a goal at the end of the second


Despite Guillaume Latendresse's two scores and Tom Kostopoulos'

career-high three points, the Canadiens couldn't get the

equalizer and dropped into a tie for seventh in the Eastern


Since returning from an ankle injury prior to starting the

All-Star game in Montreal, Price is 4-10-3 with a 3.56

goals-against average.

"I've got to take responsibility. I can't be letting goals in,"

he said. "It's a group effort but I've got to play better."

Gainey may turn to Halak on Saturday, as he's allowed three

total goals in the Canadiens' two victories over Toronto this

season, while Price has given up 11 in their two losses. Halak

is 3-1-0 with a 2.20 GAA in four lifetime appearances against

the Maple Leafs.

Should he start, Halak will need more help from Montreal's

penalty killing units, which allowed the Senators to score on

both power-play opportunities Thursday. The Canadiens have given

up five power-play goals in the last 17 chances.

If the Canadiens don't get back on track soon, Toronto could end

up passing them in the standings. The Leafs are 8-4-1 in their

last 13 games and totaled 11 goals in back-to-back victories

before Thursday night's 3-1 loss at Florida.

Toronto couldn't add to Mikhail Grabovski's tying goal late in

the first period against the Panthers, who took the lead for

good with two second-period scores.

"We had chances, and we had good puck possession," goaltender

Martin Gerber said. "In the second period, we just lost the

momentum, and they were on top of us for a while. We had a tough

time getting out of our zone. In the third, we tried everything

we could. We had some chances, but we couldn't put it in."

The acquisition of Gerber off waivers from Ottawa on March 4

hasn't helped the NHL's worst defensive team. Gerber is 3-3-0

with a 3.18 GAA since coming to Toronto, and the Leafs, who have

given up 248 goals, have allowed 16 in the last four games.


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