Habs know they need to play tougher
Face desperate Jets as Winnipeg seeks to keep thin playoff hopes alive
WINNIPEG — At one point in Wednesday’s edgy Canadiens practice at MTS Centre, a pro wrestling match broke out.
Rock-solid defenceman P.K. Subban and powerful forward Michael Blunden locked up during a particularly physical drill on the boards just out of the corner, banging off each other with great vigour.
Subban finally took his larger teammate into a half bear-hug, then from behind pretty much lifted him off the ice and slammed him face down onto the ice.
Penalties in a game, to be sure — take your pick on the infraction — but without a referee in sight, a point was clearly made.
Both Subban and Blunden skated away at the end of the punishing drill, fighting not with each other but for their breath.
“That’s just how we’ve got to be playing,” Subban said after practice, surveying a mountain of takeout chow on tables in the Canadiens dressing room. “We all understand that.”
The Habs had best have their steel-toed boots on Thursday night when they take on the Winnipeg Jets (8 p.m., RDS, TSN-Habs, TSN 690 Radio). The home team is virtually eliminated from the playoffs, absolutely needing a win and then a monumental collapse by both the Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers to make the playoffs.
“We need to play with more intensity, we all know that,” Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. “Especially when we start the game (lately), this is an aspect that I believe we’ve gone through the motions a little too much. And then we try to react.
“For the most part this season, we established the tone of the game. We need to get back to those good habits. Today’s practice was not different than any others. It was intense and we worked on things that we believe need work.
“The X’s and O’s are 50 per cent of the game. After that, it’s the intensity that you’ve got to bring to your work that will make you successful.”
If the Canadiens showed a flicker of improvement Tuesday in the latter stages of a 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils, the Habs’ fifth loss in their past six games, they’re hardly out of the woods. Indeed, with the playoffs less than a week away, this team is still moderately deep in the forest.
All the buzzwords and bite-size nuggets were spoken after practice Thursday: urgency, desperation, commitment, attention to detail, return to systems.
Against the Jets, who face playoff elimination with a loss, the Canadiens will face a big, young, strong team that employs a hard-hitting forecheck fortified by a hulking defence corps.
The Canadiens, defenceman Josh Gorges said, will succeed only by playing a style that works wonderfully — that is, when it’s used.
“When the opportunity to get a hit is there, we have to take it and finish and finish hard,” Gorges said of the physical game. “But if it’s not there, I don’t think we run around and look for it.
“We have to play smart, within ourselves. We have to play with a bit more of an edge, urgency. It’s not about having 35 to 40 hits a night, but hitting when the time is right.”
Despite the intensity of practice, the Canadiens didn’t seem to be weighed down by the gravity of their slump.
“But to say we’re having fun?” Gorges said, raising an eyebrow. “Winning is fun. When you’re losing, it’s not fun.”
Echoed centreman Tomas Plekanec: “When you’re not winning games, you’re never happy.”
There have been no extraordinary players-only meetings through the recent skid, Plekanec said. No paint-peeling dressing-room rants by anyone.
“We always talk, that’s not different now,” he said. “When you’re not winning or having tough times, you talk about what do you want to do during practice, before or during games.
“When you fall out of your system, you start questioning where you’re supposed to be. You’re not skating well enough, not moving your feet and you’re late everywhere.
“Questions pop up in your head. It’s always a few little things. But when you go back to basics, it all comes back.”
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