The 6-0 thrashing at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs nine days ago was supposed to be the ultimate humiliation, a case of the 98-pound weakling having sand kicked in his face with barely a murmur in return.
The Montreal Canadiens, conventional wisdom confidently proclaimed, have been exposed for what they are: a small, soft team that richly deserved its last-place finish last year.
Funny, then, how the Habs responded by ripping off three straight wins.
“I think maybe we came together a little after that (Toronto) game,” said forward Max Pacioretty.
In a 48-game season it doesn’t pay to read too much into single game performances, and it appears the Canadiens have rediscovered their defensive game.
The glass half-empty crowd will point to the fact the Habs’ latest string has come against two woeful teams from Florida and a lost-at-sea Flyers squad, and that’s a fair point.
But the fact is the Canadiens have allowed only three even-strength goals since losing to the Leafs, while scoring seven.
They have dominated possession statistics, outshooting their opponents by an average margin of 32-23.
Montreal has also run its winning streak against non-divisional opponents to 7-0.
But now comes a test.
On Monday, Montreal will face the Carolina Hurricanes (7:30 p.m., RDS, TSN-Canadiens) who sit atop the southeast division, and appear destined for the playoffs.
And the last time the Habs faced a division-leading team, they lost 2-1 to Boston.
They’ll have to climb an additional obstacle to beat Carolina, also winners of three straight – backup goalie Petr Budaj will spell off the flu-ridden Carey Price.
The Habs’ franchise goalie has recovered sufficiently to back up, but isn’t yet up to 100 per cent.
“I feel like a guy who hasn’t done anything for four days,” said Price, who mentioned he spent the weekend “in a dark room, trying to get comfortable”.
The good news for Montreal is Pacioretty will be in the lineup despite needing stitches to repair a cut from Flyer defenceman Kimmo Timonen’s skate blade – which the big forward fell on while driving the net in Saturday’s 4-1 win. ("I’ve had four incisions to my abdomen in three weeks,” grimaced Pacioretty, who missed a week earlier this season because of appendix surgery).
Defenceman P.K. Subban, who missed practice with flu symptoms on Sunday, is expected to play, gritty centre Ryan White will fill in for the concussed Brendan Gallagher.
The 20-year-old winger, who was drilled into the boards by Philly’s Luke Schenn, is reportedly feeling fine, but will be kept out until he completes the league-mandated concussion protocol.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, will have to do without top defencemen Joni Pitkanen and Tim Gleason, as well as centre Jeff Skinner, who is also believed to be dealing with post-concussion symptoms.
Carolina coach and former Habs captain and assistant coach Kirk Muller said his team faces a tough one in his former team.
“It doesn’t surprise me that they’ve put it back together with the guys they have over there,” he said. “they’re playing with a lot of energy.”
But the Canes are no pushover; captain Eric Staal is riding an 11-game point streak, and younger brother Jordan has contributed 12 points in 13 games.
Carolina comes into the game with a sterling 5-2-1 road record, while the Habs are tied for the league lead with six wins at home.
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