Montreal Canadiens coach Jacques Martin points to his team's scuffling power play as one of the biggest reasons for coughing up a three-goal lead in its latest loss.
Trying to get that unit back on track in New Jersey likely won't be easy.
The Canadiens could have a new quarterback on the power play as they try to avoid a seventh loss in eight games with Saturday's contest against the Devils, owners of the league's top penalty-killing unit.
Montreal (11-11-7) seemed poised to beat Vancouver up 3-0 nearing the midway point of the second period Thursday, but the Canucks stormed back and handed the Canadiens a 4-3 shootout loss. Frederic St. Denis, Raphael Diaz and Erik Cole scored for Montreal, which has lost six of seven but has gone past regulation in four of those defeats.
"At least we're picking up points, but singles aren't helping us right now," said Carey Price, 1-1-4 with a 2.55 goals-against average since Nov. 25.
The Canadiens squandered a three-goal lead for the first time this season.
"It's disappointing but when you look at it, it's simple - special teams," Martin said. "They scored short-handed, 4-on-4, and on the power play. I think 5-on-5 we played well. It wasn't a lack of effort. It was one of the best teams in the league and we competed with them, but special teams made the difference."
The Canadiens failed on all five of their power-play chances, and are 1 for 36 (2.8 percent) with the man advantage in their last nine games.
Those struggles were a big reason for Friday's decision to trade currently injured defenseman Jaroslav Spacek to Carolina for fellow blue-liner Tomas Kaberle. Kaberle had been a disappointment with the Hurricanes since signing a three-year, $12.75 million contract in July, but his 184 power-play points since 2005-06 are third-most among defensemen behind Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Gonchar.
Even if Kaberle plays Saturday, Montreal could have trouble on the man advantage in New Jersey.
The Devils (14-12-1) are killing a league-best 94.1 percent of their penalties, and have allowed just two power-play goals in 68 chances in the last 19 games (97.1 percent).
They opened the season killing their first 40 penalties at the Prudential Center before yielding a power-play score in Thursday's 5-4 shootout victory over Ottawa. New Jersey had already matched the franchise record by opening the season with 10 straight home games without allowing a power-play goal.
The Devils, however, haven't had much luck lately against Montreal on home ice, losing the last three meetings in New Jersey. They went 2-2-0 against the Canadiens last season, but were outscored 8-2 in the two games at the Prudential Center.
While Montreal wasted a 3-0 lead Thursday, New Jersey rallied from a 3-0 second-period deficit, then survived the Senators' tying goal with 5 seconds left to win in a shootout.
"It shows that we have a lot of character," said Ilya Kovalchuk, who has scored in four of five games and had three goals against the Canadiens last season. "It shows that we'll never give up, and that's a good sign for a young team."
Johan Hedberg replaced Martin Brodeur to start the second period Thursday, and stopped 18 of 20 shots. Hedberg is 4-2-0 with a 2.24 GAA in seven games since Nov. 3, but is 2-7-1 with a tie and a 2.94 GAA in 12 career games against the Canadiens.
Brodeur, 1-3-0 with a 4.59 GAA in his last five starts, is 15-5-0 with a 1.91 GAA and three shutouts against Montreal since 2005-06 - his most wins against any team outside the Atlantic Division and lowest GAA versus any Eastern Conference opponent.
Price is 2-4-1 with a 2.29 GAA against the Devils since 2008-09.