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Canadiens not ready to hit panic button

Montreal sees potential for turnaround after one win in four games to start season

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

MONTREAL -- It's not how the Montreal Canadiens or their confidence-fragile fans wanted to begin the season -- one win, via shootout, three losses and four regulation goals scored, two in the last three games.

The Canadiens' 3-1 home-opening loss Tuesday to the Chicago Blackhawks increased stress levels a few notches in these parts. With the Toronto Maple Leafs next on the schedule, visiting on Saturday, followed by a three-game swing in four days next week through California, a state that often is a wasteland for Montreal, things won't get easier any time soon.

The slow start is something Montreal isn't used to in recent years. Montreal began last season 13-1-1 and didn't lose for the third time in regulation until its 18th game. In 2015-16, the Canadiens started 9-0-0, also not losing their third game in regulation until game No. 18.

On Tuesday, the Canadiens roared out of the gate against Chicago, playing its second game in as many nights, scoring 75 seconds after the opening face-off when center Tomas Plekanec pounced on a giveaway and beat goalie Corey Crawford with a quick snap.

Canadiens players and coach Claude Julien were working to put a positive spin on this game and the season's early malaise, even with Montreal talk radio shifting through the gearbox to full panic mode.

Julien spoke of his players "squeezing the stick a bit," referring to a lack of finish around the net. But four games into the season, there wasn't perspiration on his brow as he said it.

"There's no doubt there's a couple times we didn't get a break here or there," Julien said. "But we can't rely on that. You have to fight through it. … We don't want excuses, we want solutions. That's how you become a hard team and a mentally strong team. You're going to face (adversities) at times during the year and we have to be able to face them the right way.

"We could use a little bit of puck luck, no doubt, but there's more we can do with maybe some confidence. At some point, every team in the League is going to go through that. We're going through it at the beginning of the year. We don't like the way we've started but I still see some potential in this team that once we turn it around, we're going to be fine."

Video: Crawford, DeBrincat lead Hawks past Canadiens, 3-1

The Canadiens outshot the Blackhawks 42-25, but it didn't matter.

"We're not looking for moral victories. This just makes us bear down to be even better, every game," said captain Max Pacioretty, who had three shots on goal and five more that were blocked or missed the net. "There's never an easy night in the NHL. Tonight proves it. We thought we were going to have a picnic the way we were playing (early) but we got away from our game and they made us pay."

It was a conspicuously low-key start to the Canadiens' Bell Centre schedule, the 100th home opener in the team's NHL history. There was no sign of the usual highlight reel on the scoreboard to relive past glories, nor for the first time in recent memory was there a passing of the team's ceremonial torch from one of the legends in attendance to a current player.

A Canadiens spokesman said the organization simply wanted to go a different direction with the pregame ceremony, adding that the torch and its flame remain an integral part of the team's identity, featured in its "Be The Spark" marketing campaign this season.

Canadiens players were introduced one by one, their images projected onto the rink, the loudest ovations coming for goalie Carey Price, newcomer Jonathan Drouin, Pacioretty and defenseman Shea Weber. And as fans held their breath awaiting the arrival of the torch, the Blackhawks emerged onto the ice and the game was underway. The building was still a puzzled buzz when Plekanec scored, the home team's highlight of the night coming early.

One Original Six matchup will be followed in Montreal by another, the fleet, high-flying Maple Leafs headed in on Saturday. Just the very mention of the Canadiens' archrival gives Montreal fans a collective anxiety attack, especially now. 

 

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"They're young and they're quick," Julien said of Toronto. "They have a lot of energy and they really wear teams down. If you plan on playing on your heels against them, they'll eat you alive so we're going to have to be on our toes. …

"We need to respect the skill level and youth of that team. But at the same time, we shouldn't be fearing them. We should be finding ways to win games, the way we've shown at different times in the games we've played."

Julien and his players know full well that points aren't awarded in this League for good individual periods.

"We'll just keep plugging away, whether it's in practice or bearing down and scoring some goals," he said. "At some point, it's going to go in."

And that won't happen a moment too soon for a fan base that's already in midseason crisis.

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