PITTSBURGH – Every team faces adversity at some point during the regular season, and for the Canadiens that time is now.
The Habs dropped a 6-4 decision to the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins on Wednesday night, extending their current losing streak to three games in the process. With the victory, Pittsburgh completed a season-sweep of the Canadiens for the first time in franchise history, while handing Michel Therrien’s squad another disheartening defeat.
“It’s just frustrating for us right now. I mean, whenever we’ve been winning, we’ve been getting off to good starts, getting the momentum going from the start and right now we’re not getting that momentum going. It’s going against us,” said Lars Eller, referencing the Canadiens’ recent inability to escape opening frames with a lead.
Such was the case again in the Habs’ latest outing, as the Penguins stormed out to a 2-0 lead less than halfway into Wednesday's game. A Jarome Iginla power play marker with just 21 seconds left in the first chased starter Peter Budaj from the net, and the Penguins offense never looked back. It was the third time in as many games the Canadiens were forced to pull their starting netminder after the team as a whole struggled out of the gate.
“When you get behind early in the situation that we’re in, you’re not just playing the game; you’re fighting against yourself,” confirmed Josh Gorges, whose club has been outscored by a 9-2 margin in the first period and 18-8 overall during the losing skid. “You’re fighting your own mental battle, and when things do happen as they’re bound to, you’ve got to find a way to stay resilient. You’ve got to find a way to be tough and fight through the tough times and get an ugly one.”
When the Habs did manage to put the puck past Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh responded with a relentless forecheck and goals of their own, taking any momentum the Canadiens had established right back. Pinpointing exactly what has been ailing the Habs’ defensive game as of late, however, has been far from an exact science.
“All I can say is that it’s everybody. We can’t be there 95 percent. All the small things that worked so well in the first 40 games: being close to each other in our own end, knowing what the guy next to you is doing so you’re going there," he added. "Guys are hesitating, not sure what to do. It’s the little things and once one domino falls, everything falls, and right now we’re not the same team we were for the first 40 games. We’ve got to find a way to get back to that. Once we get through this adversity, we’re going to be a hell of a team.”
Statistics suggest that Eller certainly has a point, as the Canadiens had yet to lose three consecutive games in regulation this season prior to Wednesday night.
“As tough as it is right now, you’ve got to find a way to stay resilient and stay true to what works,” noted Gorges, who played a team-high 23:41 on the night. “Stay true to the team, stay true to the system, because times get tough and you hit tough stretches. Every team does. It’s a matter of how strong willed you are.”
The Canadiens will be afforded another opportunity to put their resolve on display on Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Montreal.
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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