NEWARK, N.J. — Give Canadiens’ coach Michel Therrien full marks for optimism.
After dropping a 3-2 decision to the New Jersey Devils Tuesday night, Therrien said the Canadiens still have time to turn things around in time for a playoff run.
Those are brave words from a man whose team has lost five of its past six games, a team that has only two games remaining in the regular season to build some momentum.
“The second half (of the game), we were a lot better and we’ll build on that,” said Therrien. “We still got time to put our game together.”
The first half of the game was a disaster as the Canadiens fell into some bad habits. They let the Devils strike first, grabbing a 2-0 lead in the first period and extending it to 3-0 early in the second.
“That’s the worst recipe when you play those guys,” said Therrien. “This is a team that doesn’t give up a lot of shots. We were on our heels early in the game, especially in the first period.”
The defence came in for some criticism from the coach who felt his D-men were too passive.
“I think our defencemen need to be more aggressive on the puck carrier,” said Therrien. “We have to be a lot more aggressive on loose pucks. The result was that we gave up those early goals.”
And then there’s the penalty-kill unit that was one of the few high points in the disaster that was last season. The Canadiens have gone from No. 2 a year ago to No. 23, and they allowed the Devils two goals on four opportunities.
“We have to do a better job on the PK,” said Therrien. “We have to be more aggressive and more smart. We were getting caught out of position.”
A perfect example of that was the first New Jersey goal when the defence didn’t pressure Travis Zajac and he was able to find Patrik Elias as he cut to the net alone.
“There are so many things we have to do better,” said Lars Eller, whose goal late in the second period cut the Devils lead to one goal. “Every individual has to be better. We’re not finding a way to get the job done on the PK. We have to work better as a four-man unit.
“There were some good things in the second period and there were a lot of good things in the third,” added Eller. “We worked hard but we didn’t score that tying goal. From a 60-minute point of view, it’s not good enough.”
Rene Bourque had a more realistic view of a third period in which the Canadiens managed only five shots.
“We fell behind in the first, we played a little better in the second, but we didn’t make a big enough push in the third,” said Bourque. “We have to figure that out as a team. We have to play with an edge. We have to be physical, We haven’t been getting a lot of hits lately. I think we’ve been outhit every game and that’s a big part of it.”
The Devils outhit the Canadiens 19-15 and playing physical backfired on a couple of occasions when Brandon Prust took a couple of goaltender interference penalties.
This was a better game for goaltender Carey Price, but he dropped to 4-9 in his last 13 starts and his save percentage remains well below .900 in that stretch after allowing three goals on 24 shots.
“We didn’t get the start we wanted,” said Price. “We’re having a couple of breakdowns and we’re falling behind. I was trying to battle through everything and hope for the best. I was trying to get the battle level up. Tonight, we didn’t win, but I thought we made strides forward as a team.”
Price said he didn’t have the luxury of scoreboard-watching and wasn’t aware that the Boston Bruins left the door open in the Northeast Division by losing in Philadelphia.
“I was pretty involved mentally,” he said. “It would be nice to have home-ice advantage for our fans, but we’re just trying to solve what’s going on here.”
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