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Canadiens staying calm in midst of a storm

by Arpon Basu

BROSSARD, Que. -- Josh Gorges walked into the Montreal Canadiens' dressing room at their suburban training facility after practice Monday and began removing his equipment when he was asked a simple question: How was your Sunday?

Gorges just laughed.

"You try not to think about hockey," Gorges said, after giving the question some thought. "But it's not easy."

The Canadiens' day off Sunday came after their most humiliating loss of the season, a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of the Washington Capitals where the Bell Centre fans turned on their team, sarcastically applauding Montreal shots on goal and even cheering Casey Wellman's third-period goal that completed the scoring.

The Canadiens have lost four straight games in regulation for the first time this season. They dropped three in a row on the road to the Maple Leafs, Penguins and Red Wings by a combined score of 14-5 before being shut out by the Capitals 5-0 on Saturday. (Photo: Getty Images)

The loss Saturday was Montreal's fourth in a row in regulation time by a combined score of 19-5 and dropped its record to 8-11-2 since Dec. 9. The Canadiens have allowed 50 goals and scored 24 at 5-on-5 in those 21 games.

The reaction of the fans to the performance Saturday was more a reflection of the past 21 games than it was to the loss against the Capitals.

"That's the good thing and the bad thing about playing in Montreal," Gorges said with a laugh, "the fans aren't stupid."

No, they are not. And when the Canadiens are struggling, each and every one of those fans will let them know how they feel.

On Saturday, fans in the upper reaches of Bell Centre began chanting in French "On veut un tir" in the second period, which means "We want a shot." The Capitals were ahead 26-3 in the game and 14-0 in the second period on the shot counter when Daniel Briere took an innocuous shot on goal at 12:44 of the second, triggering cheers from the fans that Capitals goalie Braden Holtby said may have been the biggest he's ever received for making a save.

The mock cheers eventually turned to boos as the game continued, and Gorges has been in Montreal long enough to know that is not something he or any of his teammates should be taking to heart.

But it's also something he doesn't want any of the Canadiens to forget.

"That can and should be a motivating factor," Gorges said. "Not because we have to necessarily please the fans, but more the feeling you had at that moment. The embarrassment. The shame.

"That should motivate you."

The Canadiens looked like a motivated bunch at practice Monday, and there was no element of panic to be witnessed anywhere. Coach Michel Therrien barely made any changes to the lineup that lost two days earlier, sticking with the same forward lines and defense pairings that finished the game, with the exception of Louis Leblanc being replaced by George Parros on the fourth line because Leblanc was sick.

The message Therrien sent to the players was that wholesale changes aren't necessary to get the team out of its current funk, and it was well received by the Canadiens.

"The best thing that he's done for us is understand the situation," Gorges said of Therrien. "None of us are happy with what's going on right now, and to come in and beat a dead horse doesn't help. He's come in with a positive attitude, showing us in situations where we've been successful and why we've been successful in those games and trying to reinforce getting back to that."

Open line radio and social media in Montreal is filled with people who are clamoring for a coaching change, something general manager Marc Bergevin recently went on record as saying won't happen, but that hasn't stopped people from wanting it.

Therrien laughed a little Monday when he was asked whether he was feeling that kind of pressure on his job.

"I've been in this line of work a long time," he said. "Honestly, it's not something I'm preoccupied with. Our preparation for our next game and communicating with our players are the only things I'm concentrating on."

That next game comes Tuesday at home against a hot Carolina Hurricanes team that entered its home game Monday against the Columbus Blue Jackets with a 9-3-0 record in its past 12 games.

Therrien's preparation for the Hurricanes would probably be easier if there was one area of the Canadiens' game that he could focus on, except there is a serious chicken-or-the-egg scenario playing out in Montreal.

The Canadiens have scored two or fewer goals in seven of their past nine games, and have scored two goals in their past three games. At the same time, Montreal has allowed four goals or more in six straight games and in 10 of its past 13.

P.K. Subban
Defense - MTL
GOALS: 8 | ASST: 28 | PTS: 36
SOG: 143 | +/-: 3
So where is the bigger problem, in the Canadiens end of the ice or the other one? And will fixing one necessarily solve the problems in the other?

"Obviously defensively we have to make sure we're more solid, and when there's a breakdown, how to react to the breakdown," Therrien said, after acknowledging that the problem is a multi-faceted one. "Breakdowns happen during the course of a game, you can't play a perfect game, and we're going to allow scoring chances. But it's how to react on a breakdown.

"We've got to make sure we stick to the structure, because when we do that we're tough to play against. We're going to make sure we're going to be focused on those things."

A favorite mantra of Therrien's since he was hired prior to last season has been to use the term "team concept" in describing practically everything the Canadiens do, whether it's defensively or offensively. The one player who was once seen from the outside as having difficulty with that concept was defenseman P.K. Subban, and he was called out several times by Therrien for that very reason.

However, it was that very team concept that had Subban so confident Monday the Canadiens would be able to find their way out of a midseason slump that has turned what was once a comfortable spot near the top of the Eastern Conference into one that risks falling out of the picture for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I know the guys in here better than any of you guys know them, I'm with these guys every day," Subban said. "We don't have any guys in here that are quitters, we don't have any guys that are selfish or who are on their own program. Once you don't have that, you have no reason to worry.

"We have a team here, and that's important."

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