MONTREAL - Montreal Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau doesn't think his team has any sort of mental block against the Ottawa Senators, despite losing five out of six games against their Northeast Division rivals this season.
But the way some of Carbonneau's players were talking in the Canadiens dressing room following Thursday's 3-0 loss to the Senators, he may want to reconsider that assessment.
"It's not that we didn't work hard, we just weren't as hungry as we should have been in one-on-one battles and loose pucks," Habs captain Saku Koivu said. "When you play a top team, an OK night is not going to get you anywhere. You have to play almost a perfect game to win these kind of games."
Two of the six meetings between the Habs and Sens this season have been one-goal games, with each team winning one. In the other four games, Ottawa has outscored Montreal 16-4 and has left the Canadiens somewhat awestruck.
"Guys like (Jason) Spezza and (Daniel) Alfredsson make plays that other players can't make and I think we have trouble containing their puck movement," Habs winger Chris Higgins said. "It seems like we get caught puck watching a little bit too much instead of picking up the man and they move the puck 200 feet up the ice a little too easily against us."
Carbonneau feels the one-sidedness of the match-up has less to do with the Senators and more to do with the growing process of his own team.
"It seems like the teams with a lot of experience give us the most trouble," he said. "They've done what we're trying to achieve."
The Canadiens have essentially mastered the rest of the Eastern Conference, compiling a 35-14-8 record against every team but the Senators.
It is becoming clear in the Montreal dressing room that if they have any hope of advancing far in the playoffs, they will have to figure out the Senators riddle in the two remaining regular-season games left between them.
"I don't think we're getting out of the East until we find a way to beat this team, they've been giving us fits as long as I've been here, almost three years now," Higgins said. "They're one of the favourites coming out of the East and we've got to use these two games to find out how we're going to have to play these guys to beat them."