BROSSARD – Amidst a three-game losing streak – their longest winless stretch thus far this season – embarking on a two-game road trip to Florida may be just what the doctor ordered for the Canadiens.
With consecutive losses to the Bruins, Sabres and Leafs now in the rear-view mirror, the Habs are on the verge of hitting the quarter-season mark Tuesday night in Tampa Bay with a match-up against the Lightning.
For Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien, the prospect of getting back on the road and focusing on the positives of the 2012-13 campaign can only help the Habs work through their current struggles.
“It’s how you react. During a season, you’ll always face adversity at some point, but it matters how you react to it,” mentioned Therrien. “This trip, with two games on the road, players will get a chance to regroup together.”
At 6-4-1 with 13 points so far, the Canadiens sit seventh in the Eastern Conference through 11 games. According to the forward-thinking Habs bench-boss, the team’s current standing isn’t cause for concern despite the shortened 48-game calendar.
“Looking overall at the way we played since the beginning of the year, I was hoping we would have a little bit better record in the end,” said Therrien. “We’re still in a good position. It’s going to be tight until the end of the year. We all understand that. We just have to start another winning streak tomorrow.”
“I like where our team's at,” added captain Brian Gionta. “There's still room to grow, but I like our overall makeup and I like the way we play our system. If we continue to play like that, I like our chances.”
Getting back on the winning track as early as Tuesday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum will be nothing new for the Canadiens, who twice incurred losses in January before responding with multi-game winning streaks prior to their current setback.
Among the positives thus far has been the play of rookies Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk, who both find themselves in the Top-10 in rookie scoring with six and seven points, respectively. The duo has earned the praises of their veteran teammates with consistent two-way play and repeated demonstrations of grit and tenacity.
“I can't say enough good things about Gally [Gallagher],” praised defenseman Josh Gorges of his 20-year-old housemate. “I said this from the moment he came to camp a few years ago – he's a guy you want to have on your team.
“Watching him drive to the net and get his nose dirty. He's going up there against 6-foot-4 guys, hacking and whacking and battling and, I mean, that's the way hockey is supposed to be played,” continued the eight-year NHL veteran. “He is a young guy, but I don't think he knows what he does for the other guys in the room that watch how hard he plays. It inspires guys to do the same.”
Galchenyuk has also impressed the veteran blue-liner, who noted the third overall selection in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft has demonstrated remarkable composure and maturity for a player his age.
“It's amazing that someone at 18 can come in and compete at this level,” Gorges mentioned of Galchenyuk, who leads all rookies with a plus-6 differential. “I think you have to be a special type of player and he's obviously got a lot of skill, a lot of talent… he's going to learn and grow and he’ll be a tremendous player for years to come.”
Indiscipline, however, has plagued the Canadiens throughout the young season. After 11 games, the Habs find themselves uncharacteristically atop multiple penalty-related categories, leading the NHL in penalty minutes (248), penalties against (85) and penalty minutes per game (22.5).
Finding themselves in penalty trouble has placed increased pressure on the Habs’ 16th-ranked penalty kill, which Gorges is the first to admit hasn’t lived up to expectations.
“I think our penalty kill has to be better,” confirmed Gorges, who sits eighth in the league with 30 blocked shots. “I think a lot of that stems from taking too many penalties. When we give a team five or six opportunities a night, eventually they're going to find a way to break it down. They're going to talk about things, so I think we've got to take less penalties, be more disciplined in that aspect, and be a hungrier team for 60 minutes.”
Staying out of the penalty box will be key Tuesday night when the Canadiens go up against Tampa Bay’s second-ranked power play, which has scored 12 times in 27 opportunities with the man advantage on home ice this season.
“We’ve got to rebound,” admitted Gorges. “We’ve got a chance to get on the road, get away from the craziness here and be a team, stick together and start a new streak to get back on the right track.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
Clips from the room
24CH - Flash - #11
Rapid Fire - Feb. 11