SUNRISE - The Habs had another chance to play spoiler against a Florida team trying to claw their way back into a playoff spot, but weren't able to rain on the Panthers' parade on Thursday night.
With a slew of injuries and an army of inexperienced players filling in, the adjustment to the pace and style of play at the NHL may be starting to catch up to the young men under Claude Julien's watch.
"We're asking a lot of players to play bigger roles than they're ready for, because we have an arm's length of injuries. A lot of those guys [missing] are impact players on our team; we all know that. We have to live with the consequences," outlined the head coach. "Right now, our young guys are working hard. Maybe they're in over their heads a little bit with the type of roles we're giving them, but we don't have a choice right now. You just hope they can benefit from that and get better."
Julien's charges had some chances early on, and benefitted from a creative and successful dive from rookie goaltender Charlie Lindgren when the game was still scoreless, but returned to the room down 1-0 after 20, and saw the Panthers double and then triple their lead in the middle frame.
Video: MTL@FLA: Lindgren dives to deny Bjugstad's wraparound
"Talk to any team, early goals always change the momentum, they swing things in your favor. You work, you work, you work and don't get the opportunities, and it's tough to stay with it," said Paul Byron. "As a team, that has to be the focus right now: making sure you set an example, stay with it every shift, every night. The season is not over here. We have to continue to try to get better. We have to be a bit more sharp, for sure."
Byron's work almost did pay off, as he thought he had put the puck past Roberto Luongo to narrow the gap to 4-1 in the third, but the goal was disallowed on account of goalie interference following a coach's challenge.
While Jonathan Drouin recognized that age and inexperience may have been a factor in the shutout loss, but hopes he and his teammates can seize the opportunity to improve on things and build for the future.
"Every player can take responsibility for our level of play. It's about playing hockey and continuing to work," relayed Drouin. "Sometimes, you'll have new guys who are just starting out in the NHL. They're nervous, they're not used to everything yet and it takes time, but even still, there are things to change, to work on and that's what'll make the difference."
The Canadiens may have directed 40 shots at Luongo on Thursday - the 14th time they had reached that number this season - but to a man, they all agreed that they needed to do more, and that they can't fall back on the injury situation that continues to plague them as a defense for their results.
"Everyone needs to take responsibility; no one is excluded from that. We would definitely like to see these guys produce more. The tough matchups on the road, all elite players have to deal with the same thing. One thing I don't want to do is find excuses for the guys," concluded Julien. "I'd rather find solutions and I'd like for the players to find solutions, too."