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Canadiens not panicking despite some trouble spots

by Arpon Basu / NHL.com

BROSSARD, Quebec -- The Montreal Canadiens will enter their game Tuesday against the Chicago Blackhawks tied for the second-best record in the National Hockey League, their 8-3-1 mark through 12 games sitting behind only the Anaheim Ducks.

Despite that, the Canadiens find themselves in the middle of their first mini-crisis situation of the 2014-15 season.

Such is life when you play professional hockey in Montreal.

The Canadiens are in the midst of their first losing streak of the season, their 6-2 loss to the Calgary Flames on Sunday coming after a 3-2 overtime loss on the road to the Vancouver Canucks last Thursday.

The Canadiens are pretty well insulated from the sometimes hysterical reactions of their passionate fan base, but on occasion they can't help but realize what the people on the outside are thinking of their team.

"There's no panic. Nobody's panicking here. I'm sensing some panic [in your question]," coach Michel Therrien said after a high intensity practice Monday. "Bad games happen to every team. We're very disappointed with what happened, and we've taken note of it. … We're conscious of the passion of our fans, we're conscious of a lot of things. But there's a lot of parity in the League and every game is very difficult to win. So you have to be at your best every game to give yourself a chance to win. [Sunday], we were far from our best."

The Blackhawks arrive in Montreal under very similar circumstances. Coming off two straight losses, to the Toronto Maple Leafs on the road and the Winnipeg Jets at home, Chicago has had an incredible amount of trouble scoring goals. In 12 games, the Blackhawks have scored two or fewer goals in nine of them, going 3-5-1 in those games.

But unlike the Blackhawks, whose 6-5-1 record reflects the problems they have had thus far, the Canadiens shiny record has been masking some areas where they haven't been at their best all season.

There are a number of key statistical categories where the Canadiens find themselves in the bottom third of the NHL after 12 games, prior to the game Monday between the New York Rangers and the St. Louis Blues: 5-on-5 goals for and against (21st), goals per game (24th), goals against per game (20th), shots on goal per game (24th), shots on goal against per game (22nd), power play percentage (26th), power play opportunities (26th), times shorthanded (29th) and penalty kill time (29th).

To name a few.

The Canadiens are also one of two teams in the NHL, along with the Philadelphia Flyers, who have scored the first goal in only two games this season, and they are the only team yet to hold a lead at the end of the first period.

The more advanced stats are not kind to the Canadiens either, with the team sitting 23rd in the NHL in both Corsi- and Fenwick-for percentage (shot attempts and unblocked shot attempts) when the score is close, according to war-on-ice.com.

"There's more areas of our game that we would have liked to clean up than expected, especially given the record that we had," Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty said. "But at the same time it's been 12 games and we're looking to get better every game.

"It's early in the year, but you can't use that excuse anymore."

Therrien is not making any rash decisions in the wake of the 6-2 loss against the Flames.

It is early in the season and a lot of the statistics listed above are disproportionately skewed by the Canadiens three regulation losses, which came by a combined score of 16-3.

Coming off perhaps the most embarrassing of those three losses, the Canadiens first on home ice this season, Therrien did not tinker too much at practice Monday with a forward group that has had trouble producing offense of late. He has two players sitting out of the lineup in Jiri Sekac and Michael Bournival who might help in that area, and Therrien did not rule out one or both of them coming in Tuesday, but they remained extras in practice Monday. And following a brief stint at center, Alex Galchenyuk will move back to left wing on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher.

The one serious adjustment made at practice Monday was pairing top defensemen Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban, a combination Therrien uses at strategic times during games, but which has not started a single game together this season.

Markov and Subban were, by far, the Canadiens most effective defensive pairing last season, driving possession and ensuring the puck stayed far away from goaltender Carey Price more often than not.

"They're a threat every time they're in the opposition end. There's no question," Price said. "[Markov's] vision is second to none and he finds P.K. all over the ice. P.K. obviously has the lateral ability and the shot to get it on net. So I think if we're using those two guys [Tuesday], they need to do what they need to do, and that's get pucks towards the net."

The problem, if Markov and Subban do indeed play together, is the rest of the Canadiens defense becomes thin on talent. Alexei Emelin, Subban's regular partner, would move to the left of Markov's partner Tom Gilbert, with Nathan Beaulieu likely to play his second straight game to the left of Mike Weaver on the third pair.

But by and large, the Canadiens will be staying the course against Chicago on Tuesday and hoping whatever ailed them the past two games was more of a blip on the radar than signs of a downward trend.

"I think we just need to stay confident in our abilities and keep moving forward," Price said. "Sure, we lost two games, but it's not the end of the world.

"There's no overwhelming sense of panic in this room."

Not yet, at least.

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