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Frustrated Leafs must overcome hot Huet to break out of slump

The French goalie was named the NHL's third star of November on Friday after going 7-2 and allowing only 14 goals in the month. He's been especially hot since relieving back-up David Aebischer in a 5-1 Remembrance Day loss in Toronto.

That's not what the slumping Leafs need after scoring only two goals and allowing 12 during a three-game losing streak that saw them stoned twice by Boston's Tim Thomas and shutout 5-0 on Thursday night by Atlanta's Kari Lehtonen.

Huet will be in goal when the Leafs face the Canadiens for the fourth time this season on Saturday night (7 p.m. ET).

"It seems we haven't seen any bad goaltending for the last little while," Leafs coach Paul Maurice said after a one-hour workout at the Bell Centre.

"But we aren't generating the same offence on goaltenders as we were a few games ago, just because we're squeezing and pressing and trying to do things that aren't there."

Huet faltered somewhat in a 4-2 loss in Carolina on Thursday night, but he faced 46 shots. He leads the NHL in save percentage at .938 and is third in goals-against at 2.07.

"We had success (in November) because we played as a team," Huet said of his third star. "Everybody was a part of it.

"The whole team wanted to get better at all aspects of the game and we did that after that game in Toronto."

Maurice does not say in advance who his starting goaltender will be, but he hinted strongly that Andrew Raycroft would get a seventh straight start to help him bounce back from a tough outing.

The Leafs hope a win in Montreal can get them back on form, as it did when they won in a shootout at the Bell Centre on Oct. 28 to end a three-game winless run that included 6-2 and 7-2 losses to Ottawa. That started a streak of seven wins in eight games.

"Last time we came in, all parts of our game were different in back-to-back games," said Maurice. "Here, we have some specific things that have crept into our game that are causing us real problems. It's a different thing, but the same situation - in trouble."

Mostly, they have stopped scoring, partly because their power play is in an 0-for-13 drought.

Montreal has struggled on attack as well, losing two of its last three games, with the only win a 1-0 shootout victory over Florida. But the Canadiens have not lost two games in a row this season.

"When Toronto came in the last time, they were down and used that game to get back on track," said Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau. "They'll be in the same situation and it's up to us to close the door."

The Leafs say it is only coincidence that they have lost three in a row since captain Mats Sundin returned from an elbow injury. The team was red hot in the three weeks he was out of action, then stopped scoring despite the return of their veteran first-line centre.

Did they give an extra effort when Sundin was away and then relax when he came back?

"I don't think so," Maurice said with a grin. "It's not like we took a 30-goal scorer and put him in stands when Mats came back.

"I don't think he's in his rhythm yet, but you can't tell because he blends in perfectly with the rest of the forwards."

Winger Jeff O'Neill said the Leafs were, "all excited to get our best player back. As good as we were playing without him, we're that much better with him. For whatever reason, we've got into a lull and we've got to get out of it. It will take a lot of intensity and for guys to step up and play big games."

The 21,273-seat Bell Centre will be packed and noisy as usual with plenty of fans for both teams when the bitter rivals meet on a Saturday night. Energy shouldn't be lacking on either side.

"They're fun games," said Leafs defenceman Bryan McCabe. "We've had some great games against these guys and we hope for the same on Saturday.

"They're coming off a loss too, and it'll be another battle."

With Sundin's return, the Leafs are healthy, while Montreal is missing only first-line winger Chris Higgins, who is about midway through a projected six-week recovery from a sprained ankle.

His replacement on the first line with Saku Koivu and Michael Ryder, 19-year-old rookie Guillaume Latendresse, got a boost Friday when the team made it official that he would not be loaned to Canada's team for the world junior championships.

The team felt that Latendresse, who was sparingly used on the team that won gold at last year's world juniors in Vancouver, was needed in Montreal with Higgins out of action.

Ryder hopes he got out of a slump with only his second goal in 14 games against Carolina, although Sergei Samsonov's 14-game goal drought drags on.



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