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Canadiens head to Buffalo seeking answers to slump

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL -- Ten days.

That is all it has taken for the Montreal Canadiens to go from being the toast of the NHL, a team sitting pretty with a 7-1-0 record, to one getting booed in its own building.

The Canadiens have won once since defeating the New York Rangers 3-1 on Oct. 25, a five-game span that has seen Montreal get outscored 18-6, with the exclamation point being laid down by the Chicago Blackhawks in a 5-0 win at Bell Centre on Tuesday.

The Canadiens are 1-3-1 in the 10 days since that win against the Rangers, and what appeared to be a promising start to the season has gone seriously sideways in a hurry.

"Nothing's working for us," center Tomas Plekanec said Tuesday. "I mean, I thought we played hard in the first period, we put pucks to the net. We need to take a step back. We have to stay positive as much as possible and we've got to fight through it.

"We've got to help ourselves, somehow."

The Canadiens can do that as soon as Wednesday, when they will visit the Buffalo Sabres and former captain Brian Gionta and alternate captain Josh Gorges for the first time since they left Montreal during the summer -- Gionta via free agency, Gorges in a trade.

But a lot of things will need to change in order for the Canadiens to come out of their current rut, and a win against the Sabres would not be as important as how they play in Buffalo.

The Canadiens are a team built on speed, one that thrives on mistakes and is able to transition from defense to offense as quickly as any team in the NHL.

But they have not been doing that of late. Far from it.

Pucks that used to crisply go from stick to stick up the ice are now bouncing away to the opposition. There is little cohesion in anything the Canadiens are doing offensively, and they appear unable to enter the opposing zone more than one player at a time.

"We know what we want to do, and when we do it, we're so hard to play against," Plekanec said. "That's our game. The transition game is our game. I think what we need is our second guy on the forecheck, our second guy when we're getting pucks through the neutral zone and in the offensive zone, our second guy is a little bit too late. They get two guys there and outnumber us in the corners and they get it out too easy."

When the Canadiens are not transitioning well, they become very easy to play against, and that's what's happened during the past few games.

"We're having trouble creating rhythm in our game," coach Michel Therrien said. "Our transition game isn't there. In a relay race, when you don't get that baton, you can't race. That's what's happening to us right now."

Therrien attempted to fix that Tuesday by putting his two best puck-moving defensemen on the same pairing, the first time this season P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov played together on a regular basis.

It didn't work.

Subban and Markov were on the ice for three Chicago goals and were on the points of a Canadiens power play that went 0-for-4, dropping them to 8.1 percent for the season, better than only the Minnesota Wild and the Sabres.

If the Canadiens transition game is going to work, Subban and Markov will be a big part of it. Subban, for one, does not like what he's seeing from his own play this season.

"Am I guilty of not being my best? Yeah, I am. I don't think this season I've been my best," Subban said. "The good thing is there's a lot of hockey to be played, I know I can be better, and it starts [Wednesday]. Another opportunity.

"You can say whatever you want, nobody cares. People just want to see you play better. People want to point the finger at me? That's fine. I've got to be better. And I will be."

Subban was made a part of the Canadiens leadership group this season when he and Max Pacioretty joined Plekanec and Markov as alternate captains to fill the void left by the departures of Gionta and Gorges. It's a role he takes seriously, and he openly admitted taking blame for the way he's played fits with the sort of accountability the Canadiens want to establish in their dressing room.

That role also appears to allow Subban to take a positive view of the situation the Canadiens finds themselves in, a sudden market correction from powerhouse to mouse in a span of 10 days.

"Obviously we know that the past couple of games haven't been our best games, and we're paying for it the past two, but that's OK," Subban said. "That's all a part of learning. There's a lot of hockey to be played this season. What we have to do is figure out, this is the way we're going to get out of these situations.

"As a guy who's part of the leadership group, you watch to see if guys are getting down on each other. We're not doing that. Guys are supporting each other, building each other up. That's what's important. That's what's going to get us out of this thing."

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