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High expectations breed roller-coaster fan reactions for Habs

MONTREAL - One day, the Montreal Canadiens were being dissected by a city of concerned hockey fans analyzing all the problems with their beloved team.

One convincing win later, the Canadiens were right back in the public's good books.

This is how it's been for the Habs for the better part of their 99-year history, but with expectations on this year's team riding high after a decade of mediocrity, that roller-coaster of fan emotion appears to be reaching a crescendo.

"I've been here long enough to see these things and I think we all experienced a little bit of that last year," Habs captain Saku Koivu said after practice Wednesday. "One thing is we're trying to keep the focus on the team and what happens in the room here. We know when we're playing our best and we know when we're not doing the things we're supposed to, even when we're winning.

"Nobody had to tell us after Saturday's game that we didn't play well."

That didn't stop a deluge of contributors to radio call-in shows in the days following Montreal's 6-3 loss to the rival Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night, a game head coach Guy Carbonneau referred to as the most embarrassing he's been a part of since taking over behind the Habs bench.

Carbonneau and assistants Doug Jarvis and Kirk Muller went through over an hour of film work with the team Monday to show them repeated examples of where the players had lacked effort, and then they ran a high-tempo practice in which hard work was the theme.

Koivu said the tactic worked.

"At one point in my career here, when we didn't necessarily have the team to compete at a top level, it's sometimes tough to be mad (about a loss)," he said. "But right now we have the talent and the potential to be pushed, and I think the coaching staff knows that, so when they see there are things to be corrected they will do that.

"(On Tuesday night) we showed it's not fun to be pushed around by the coaching staff and have those meetings."

The Canadiens 4-0 shutout of the Senators on Tuesday was their most convincing victory of the season, dominating a team that has had Montreal's number in recent years. The Canadiens chose the perfect time to do it.

"We were in a situation where we had to win to calm ourselves and calm the people around us and the players responded, from the first to the last guy," Carbonneau said. "Success for us has always been not to get too high or too low and that doesn't change, even if there is more pressure to win."

The public reaction to Saturday's loss was a bit overstated considering it left the Canadiens with a sterling 8-2-2 record, but it wasn't completely without merit either because Montreal had won several games in spite of some uncharacteristically loose defensive play.

Against the Senators on Tuesday night, the Canadiens allowed few quality scoring chances and when they did, Carey Price was there to erase the mistakes.

But it was only one game.

Price will once again be in goal when the Canadiens play Thursday night in Boston, meaning there will be many more opportunities this season for fans and media to jump on a particularly bad loss as being an omen of disaster.

It will likely be something the coaches and players will have to manage all year and Carbonneau hopes his past experiences as a player in Montreal and Dallas will help his team maintain its poise in the face of a panicking city.

"I don't want to get ahead of the game in thinking I'm the solution, but I've been there before," he said. "I've lived through it being a player on a team that was picked to finish first at the start of the year, we did finish first and we did win the Stanley Cup. So I know how players act and react and what they go through over the course of a year."



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