Plagued by an inconsistent offense, the Montreal Canadiens are still struggling to break out of a midseason swoon. Saturday night's date with the Toronto Maple Leafs' porous defense could be the perfect solution.
In the final game before their longest road trip this season, the Canadiens will try to get back on track and become the sixth straight opponent to score at least four goals against the Maple Leafs.
After going 11-2-1 from Dec. 18-Jan. 17, Montreal (29-17-6) has dropped six of its last eight games, scoring two or fewer goals five times during that stretch.
The Canadiens fell 3-2 at Buffalo on Friday despite putting 37 shots on goal and ending a shutout streak by the Sabres' Ryan Miller that had reached more than 150 minutes. They outshot Buffalo 15-5 in the first period but failed to score, then trailed during second intermission for the seventh time in their last eight games.
"It's getting annoying going into the third period down. Every time it seems like playing catch-up," forward Chris Higgins said. "We need to get aggressive."
The Canadiens are playing without Robert Lang, their top-scoring forward, who is out indefinitely after Achilles' tendon surgery. Another problem has been the power play, which is converting just 16.7 percent of the time after leading the league at a 24.1-percent clip last season.
Montreal has also had trouble on the road, losing its last five. The team will carry that streak into a six-game trip that begins Monday at Calgary.
They'll get one last chance to turn it around at the Bell Centre, where they're 17-5-4 and averaging 3.3 goals. They've also lit up their Canadian Original Six rivals this season, scoring 15 total goals while going 2-1-0 in the series, including a pair of six-goal efforts in their two victories.
Toronto's 3.58 team goals-against average ranks last in the league, and there was little reason for optimism in Wednesday's 5-0 loss at Buffalo, when the team managed 16 shots on goal.
"This wasn't one of our better efforts to say the least," Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. "We weren't ready tonight."
The Leafs (19-24-9) are 2-2-1 since the All-Star break, but they've allowed at least four goals in all five games, giving up a total of 23 over that span.
While backup Justin Pogge was in net for Wednesday's loss, starting goalie Vesa Toskala continues to struggle, with his career-worst 3.34 GAA and .883 save percentage both ranking as the second-worst in the league.
Toskala has been even worse against the Canadiens this season, with a 6.00 GAA in three starts, getting pulled from two of them after two periods.
"I would have expected Vesa to have much better numbers," Wilson told his team's official Web site. "He has been inconsistent at best. He has played some solid games, some poor. We have tried to find some consistency."
It's unclear who will be in Montreal's net after Carey Price stopped 19 shots on Friday. Backup Jaroslav Halak hasn't played since Jan. 20, but he's 2-0-0 with a 1.50 GAA against the Leafs this season.
This game will also be the latest chapter in a feud between Toronto's Mikhail Grabovski and Montreal's Sergei Kostitsyn, former Belarusian teammates who've nearly fought in recent meetings and traded barbs through the media.
"I think he is not Belarusian now, he is French, because I never fight with Belarusian guys," Grabovski said of Kostitsyn. "I don't know why he wants to fight with me. If he wants to fight, we'll go in the street and, every minute of every day, I'll wait for him and we'll fight."
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