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Montreal Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec reacts after being hit to the ice during the third period of their NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals in Montreal March 26, 2011. REUTERS/Shaun Best (SHAUN BEST)
Montreal Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec reacts after being hit to the ice during the third period of their NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals in Montreal March 26, 2011. REUTERS/Shaun Best (SHAUN BEST)

Sean Gordon

Despite slide, history is on Habs' side Add to ...

It was late February in 1928, and the Montreal Canadiens, led by Howie Morenz and Aurèle Joliat, contrived to lose their fourth straight game via shutout - the only time that's happened in the team's annals.

History doesn't record whether then-coach Cecil Hart skated his team into the ground the next day.

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But after the Canadiens hung their third straight goose egg this past Saturday against Washington - the first time that's happened since 1949 - coach Jacques Martin decided to go the punitive route with the team's current edition lest they match the franchise mark for offensive futility when the Atlanta Thrashers come to town on Tuesday.

On current form, it's no sure thing that they won't.

The Habs seldom practise on the Sundays they're at home - it's happened just one other time this season - but desperate times call for wind sprints and exhausting one-on-one drills.

"At some point this sort of practice has to happen. We're all frustrated, we all want to do better," said centre David Desharnais.

None of the players were surprised by the tenor of the session or that it interrupted what is usually a day off (the team will instead have its off-ice respite on Monday).

"It sucks when you're skating back and forth … but when you go home you know you did everything you had to do," said goaltender Carey Price, who put in a sparkling performance against the Caps after being chased from his previous two starts.

Whether any amount of practice will help the suddenly punchless Canadiens develop greater intensity and rediscover their offence - only the Nashville Predators have scored fewer goals among teams occupying playoff positions - is an open question.

"We're not creating anything, but we're not working very effectively either - we're chipping pucks in too hard, or not hard enough, we're not the first to get there. If we can fix the small details the rest will come," Desharnais said.

The problem with expectations is they aren't easily exceeded, but when the Canadiens talked a week ago about winning a crucial three-game sequence against Buffalo, Boston and Washington they can't have imagined losing all three, let alone scoring zero goals.

So it is that collars are fitting a little more snugly in the Montreal dressing room - the team now shares sixth in the conference with the New York Rangers and faces Atlanta at home before travelling to ninth-place Carolina and New Jersey, a familiar nemesis, to close out this week.

The Habs have a seven-point cushion on the Hurricanes, but the postseason isn't quite a foregone conclusion.

They need goals, and soon. With several players, like top-six forwards Tomas Plekanec and Michael Cammalleri to name two, carrying injuries, the Habs will also need better play from their battered defence corps in supporting the attack.

But a quick trudge through the Montreal record book suggests a couple of hopeful precedents - history isn't just darkness and rage.

In 1949, Bill Durnan won the Vézina Trophy, and the Habs made the playoffs.

In 1927-28, George Hainsworth also won the Vézina and the team also qualified for the postseason, losing in the second round.

Price was excellent against Washington, but has now lost five of his last six starts - the Habs are 2-6 overall since top-line forward Max Pacioretty went down to injury.

It's probably not a stretch to say that any hopes of both of those things happening this year (Vézina, and the playoffs) come down to this week.

"There's been enough said," rookie defenceman P.K. Subban said, "we've had meetings, we've talked as a group … but we need to see some action now."

 

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