MONTREAL -- The Montreal Canadiens were one of the NHL's best first-period teams through their first 40 games of the season before suddenly and inexplicably getting off to horrendous starts in losing each of their last three games.
They may have a chance to snap out of it at Bell Centre on Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that is going through a very similar problem.
Over the first three games of their current four-game road trip that ends here, the Lightning were down 4-0 to the Washington Capitals, 3-0 to the Buffalo Sabres and 3-1 to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, a game Tampa Bay came back to tie before losing 4-3 in overtime.
As for the Canadiens, they were down 3-0 at the Toronto Maple Leafs, 2-0 to the Philadelphia Flyers at home and 4-0 at the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night in what was eventually a 6-4 loss.
"Both coaches are probably looking at each other thinking something's got to budge," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after his team held an optional skate Wednesday morning.
Montreal's first-period collapses are truly difficult to explain. The Canadiens allowed 16 first-period goals and trailed after 20 minutes three times through their first 40 games. In the past three, Montreal has allowed nine first-period goals and has trailed at the first intermission each time, forcing a team that has barely trailed in games this season to play a lot of catch-up hockey.
"We know they're probably going to come out extremely hard, especially after the last three games they've played and the position that they're battling for on top of their division," Lightning center Steven Stamkos said. "But if you do have a quick start, there's that here-we-go-again mentality."
Montreal may be welcoming Michael Ryder back to the lineup after he missed the trip to Pittsburgh with an upper-body injury.
With the Lightning holding an optional skate and the Canadiens not skating at all after arriving late Wednesday night from Pittsburgh, these are the lines both teams used in their previous game, with the exceptions being Ryder inserted into his usual slot for Montreal, which drops Gabriel Dumont from the lineup, and with Carey Price getting the start in goal.
Alex Killorn – Steven Stamkos – Martin St. Louis
Ryan Malone – Vincent Lecavalier – Benoit Pouliot
Pierre-Cedric Labrie – Richard Panik – Teddy Purcell
B.J. Crombeen – Nate Thompson – Dana Tyrell
Victor Hedman – Sami Salo
Matt Carle – Eric Brewer
Keith Aulie – Radko Gudas
Scratched: JT Wyman
Injured: Anders Lindback (ankle), Tom Pyatt (upper body)
Rene Bourque – Tomas Plekanec – Brian Gionta
Max Pacioretty – David Desharnais – Brendan Gallagher
Alex Galchenyuk – Lars Eller – Michael Ryder
Travis Moen – Jeff Halpern – Brandon Prust
Josh Gorges – P.K. Subban
Andrei Markov – Francis Bouillon
Davis Drewiske – Yannick Weber
Scratched: Tomas Kaberle, Mike Blunden, Gabriel Dumont
Injured: Raphael Diaz, Colby Armstrong, Alexei Emelin