BROSSARD - Five straight games without a win is certainly a dire situation in which to find oneself in today's NHL.
With League parity such as it is and the standings so tight as a result, even just one loss can be the difference between a spot in the playoffs and an early tee time. But on the flip side, when the standings are the way they are, one win can go a long way and that's the message head coach Claude Julien is sending to his players as they get set to face the New Jersey Devils at the Bell Centre on Thursday.
"Whether it's in hockey or in everyday life, panicking never helps. It's important for us to stay calm to be able to turn things around. That's what we need to do tonight. Like I said to the players, if we win the game tonight, we're in second place [in the Atlantic Division]. Right now, we're out of the playoffs," outlined the Habs bench boss of his team, who is currently right outside the Wild Card race with 27 points in 24 games. "This game means a lot. We have to have a good start to the game and be prepared. We have to get back to basics to do the right things."
Video: Claude Julien's pregame press conference
Ask the players, and you'll see that the message has been well received.
"These points right now are just as important as the points in February or March. We have to treat it like it's a must-win game. We haven't won one in five games now," explained Nick Cousins of his team's five-game winless streak dating back to November 16 against those same Devils. "We have to put a stop to this thing. Let's do it tonight."
Video: Cousins on the need to earn points in the standings
The Habs have had a series of high-intensity practices culminating in Wednesday's skate at the Bell Sports Complex. And although things may have gotten a little chippy at times, the Canadiens all know it's all in the interest of getting back on the winning track.
"The compete level is really high, especially in the battle drills; guys are getting at each other a little bit more," said rookie Cale Fleury, who skated for 16:40 against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday and posted a minus-1 differential. "It's not really frustration; it's more so just guys wanting to win battles and be competitive. If that translates into the game tonight, we should have a good start."
Video: Cale Fleury on the importance of having a good start
In fact, Cousins - who joined Montreal as a free agent in the summer - feels like the team chemistry he's seen since arriving will be the Habs' key to getting out of their current funk, and will also serve to strengthen the bonds in the room.
"Ever since I came here, since day one, the boys have welcomed me with open arms. I get along with everybody in the dressing room. Everybody gets along pretty well, and when you go through stuff like this it almost makes you closer," shared Cousins, who has seven points (2G, 5A) in 18 games this season. "Hopefully at the end of the season when we're in the playoffs, we can all look back at this time of the year and say that it just made us stronger and better. Moving forward, we have to get back on track and put an end to this thing."
The Canadiens take on the New Jersey Devils at 7:30 p.m. at the Bell Centre. For tickets, click here.