MONTREAL - Here are a few key storylines from Thursday night's 6-4 loss to the New Jersey Devils at the Bell Centre.
Tough play without the puck
The Habs kept their noses in the game and continued to battle back from one- and two-goal deficits against the Devils, but continued defensive lapses allowed New Jersey to keep regaining the lead before Montreal could build much in the way of momentum.
"Every time our D-men tried to shoot the puck or we had the puck up high, their forwards automatically... they didn't even look back, they just blew the zone right away. I think that caught us by surprise a little bit," described defenseman Mike Reilly, who finished with one assist, a plus-1 differential, and three shots on goal in 13:46 of action. "That's something we talked about before the game, but you could just tell, the puck started to work its way lower, or maybe get blocked, and their forwards were just blowing the zone. We stress getting our forwards to the net, and sometimes if you have three guys low and they're blowing the zone, it's going to turn into odd-man rushes."
Head coach Claude Julien agreed with the American defenseman in that his team's problems stemmed from defensive mistakes that proved extremely costly.
"When you look at the number of shots we had, the number of goals we scored, we know that's not what the problem is," explained Julien, whose Canadiens outshot the Devils 48-34. "The problem is for sure on defense. It's frustrating for us to see those kinds of things. We were looking at the decisions that were made and saying, 'That's not what we've been teaching, that's not what we want.'
"At the end of the day, the odd-man rushes and the decisions that were made, that's what's been costing us games. And it totally has to do with our play without the puck."
For Brendan Gallagher, the only way his group is going to emerge from its current funk is by persevering and striving to clean up the act.
Video: Brendan Gallagher on the Habs' defensive mistakes
But the Habs' alternate captain was clear: at this point, talk is cheap.
"Like we said after the last game, we have one option: continue to work. We talk about it, but you can only say the right thing so many times," shared Gallagher, who scored his team-leading 10th goal of the season. "At some point, you have to go out and do it. Right now, we have good energy and then there's a mental lapse, and it ends up at the back of our net."
Frustration has firmly set in
If the Habs were feeling unhappy with themselves after dropping their fifth straight on Tuesday, then it should come as no surprise that those feelings have been amplified after falling to the Devils two nights later.
"It's really hard. We know the team we have in here. To lose those six in a row hurts, because we want to make the playoffs more than anything and go on a deep playoff run," expressed Brett Kulak, who returned to the lineup after a two-game absence. "This time of year is super important - as is the whole season - but we just know we're so much better than the last handful of games we've shown."
Video: Brett Kulak on the team's frustration
Julien was quick to point out that lack of effort or determination is not what's behind the Habs' current slide.
"Those guys in there care, they're frustrated as heck. They want to do well; they want to represent the Montreal Canadiens the right way. They don't like what's going on," stated Julien. "I'm frustrated as hell right now, I can tell you that much. And I'm tired of losing."
A turnaround for KK
This might not be the night to focus on the positives, but it's worth mentioning that sophomore center Jesperi Kotkaniemi had a strong night at the office.
The 19-year-old Finn scored his third goal of the season in the second, earned a helper on Joel Armia's goal later in the same period, won five of his seven draws, and registered three hits on the night.
Still, Kotkaniemi wasn't in a celebratory mood despite snapping a 14-game goalless drought.
"I think it felt good in the moment, but it's not like that anymore," he said after the game.
Video: Jesperi Kotkaniemi on the loss to the Devils
The Canadiens practice at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard at 11:30 a.m. on Friday. Their next game is Saturday at 3:00 p.m. against the Philadelphia Flyers in Montreal. For tickets, click here.