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Focus forward

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

SYOSSET, NY – With a tilt against a struggling New York Islanders squad on the horizon, head coach Michel Therrien is adamant that his club’s ability to return to form is all about re-establishing the compete and concentration levels that afforded them success in the first place.

In the wake of their second consecutive loss – a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Flyers on Thursday night in Philadelphia – the Habs bench boss ran his troops through a high-octane skate at Islanders Iceworks on Friday afternoon that focused primarily on creating speed through the neutral zone at even-strength and during odd-man rushes. That lesson plan came as no surprise given the bleu-blanc-rouge have managed to light the lamp just once in their last two games.

Tactical modifications aside, Therrien knows the road to the Canadiens’ success from here on out during the 2013-14 campaign will be paved by not taking winning streaks at any point in the year for granted, while maintaining their focus – and unyielding hunger – along the way.

“We have to be realistic about the type of team we are. When you have a tendency to think a bit too highly of yourself and you’re paying too close attention to what people are saying around you, you often forget the very base of who you are and the reason why you became a good team,” offered Therrien, whose club currently sits third in the East, five points back of the conference-leading Boston Bruins.

“We’re aware that we’re a group that should battle it out for a spot in the playoffs. That won’t change,” added Therrien, who confirmed that Carey Price would get the start on Long Island on Saturday night. “There are some powerful teams in our conference like Pittsburgh and Boston, but we have to stay realistic and humble about the type of team we have. Our best players need to be our best players, but our grinders also need to be really good grinders. Everyone has a job to do and they need to do it well.”

Doing that job well is a by-product of playing fierce and relentless hockey game in and game out, something P.K. Subban insists is easier said than done in today’s NHL because of tough scheduling and team make-up.

“I think we went through a stretch of games where we played some very good hockey, and I felt like we had that fire, that passion, that edge to our game. I think that when you look at us now, with us being at the rink a lot, sometimes that can take away your fire and your passion,” confessed Subban, who leads the Canadiens with 24 points on the year, while also logging the second-most ice time on the team at 24:57 per game.

“I think it’s more about us managing it and understanding that if we’re going to be a good team and an elite team, we’re going to go through times when things are going well and you have to find a way as a player to still have that compete level every night. That’s tough,” added the 24-year-old rearguard. “We have young players on this team that are still learning about what it’s like to be a professional hockey player and to be an elite team. It’s a challenge to make sure that you have that fire and that passion playing every night.”

That certainly applies to a tilt against the Islanders, who currently sit 15th in the East and are 1-7-2 in their last 10 games. Nevertheless, the Habs’ most recent defeat at the hands of the Flyers, who came into the tilt ranked 13th in the conference, likely taught them another important lesson ahead of their second encounter of the year with Jack Capuano’s troops.

“These games are important, not just for us, but for everybody,” stressed Subban, denoting the importance of racking up points ahead of the Olympic break given the frequency with which the Canadiens will be playing once they get back to work on February 26. “The games are only going to get tougher from here on out. We have to be ready to play every night, and not take anything for granted.

“We’re doing the right things,” added the reigning Norris Trophy winner. “I think we just have to keep coming to the rink with passion and intensity, and be ready to execute.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for

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