The Canadiens are in Boston for their first meeting of the season against the Bruins, and they’ll play again Saturday in Montreal. It’s the first time this season the Canadiens play back-to-back games. Boston hasn’t played since last Saturday.
This is also the first time in 39 years that the Habs will play a Boston team that is defending the Stanley Cup. By contrast, the Canadiens have been champions seven times in that period.
While Montreal fans have obsessively chewed over their team’s slow start, they might be interested to know that after Wednesday’s win over the Flyers, they are tied with the Bruins — and the Islanders — for 12th in the East with six points. The B’s have won one more game than the Habs and have lost five; in addition to their two wins, Canadiens have two points from regulation ties and have lost five in regulation.
For Boston, the new season has brought concerns about a Cup “hangover.”
Two weeks ago, Coach Claude Julien noticed the B’s were not properly focused. “Sometimes you can feel the looseness in the dressing room,” he told reporters after a Thanksgiving/Columbus Day loss to the Avalanche. “This is starting my fifth year, and you kind of learn to read your team better all the time. And tonight I came in and I told my coaches and I even brought that to their attention before the game. I said, ‘You know what, we seem a little loose in here. We might want to focus a little bit better because we’re going to be surprised if we’re not.’”
GM Peter Chiarelli seems a bit miffed at his team’s form as well and isn’t sure what to do about it. “This is a first-time thing for a lot of guys, myself included,’’ Chiarelli told the Boston Globe this week. “I haven’t minded our level of compete; I think it can be better. To me, the common denominator in all this is two things. We’ve had more offensive chances and better quality chances in this first part than we did last year, and we’re not scoring. So that, to me, is a foundation of getting things back, too. When you’re scoring early, you set the tone.
“The second thing is just getting the proper mind frame again. I don’t know how to do that. I think it may be more of a natural process and we’re working on it. This is new to us and I don’t want to overreact. Unfortunately we have to do it game by game for now.
“I’ve talked to GMs, coaches, and players who have been through this,’’ he continued. “These guys have different stories but they all say there is something that happens that you can’t avoid. ‘Malaise’ is too strong a word, but it’s just a bit of a cloud right now. One team said it was 20 games before it was back to normal. There’s no easy answer. We’ve just got to deal with it….At some point, if I don’t like the way things are going, I’ll have to do something.’’
Right now, he’s doing little more than watch. The Bruins have allowed the first goal in each of the last six games. They’ve scored only 19 goals in eight games, but that’s the same number they’ve surrendered. They haven’t had a lot of attacking zone time, but more one-and-dones. “So far,” Fluto Shinzawa of The Globe observed, “the Bruins haven’t ramped up their in-zone cycling game, which emphasizes placing pucks behind defensemen, establishing the forecheck, and putting consecutive shots on goal.”
Some in Boston hope that a visit from the Habs will cure the hangover. Julien doesn’t seem among them. “Montreal is a great rivalry,” he said on Thursday. “But for me, it doesn’t matter who comes in. We just have to understand that we have to get ourselves winning on a more consistent basis and it’s as simple as that. It’s more about looking at ourselves than looking at the opponent. I know it sounds cliche, but that’s what it is. For us, whoever we play, we have to have that sense of urgency that will allow us to get ourselves back on track and back to the team everyone thinks we should be.”
His personnel hasn’t dramatically changed from the one the Habs met in the first round last spring. Tomas Kaberle and two former Habs, Mark Recchi and Michael Ryder, have moved on. To replace them, Tyler Seguin has gotten more work, Chiarelli traded for Joe Corvo and signed another former Hab, Benoit Pouliot (pictured above). Seguin leads the B’s with 3 goals, 6 assists and a plus-7, Corvo has 3 assists and is a minus-4. Pouliot is scoreless in seven games and is minus-2.
Who’s hot for the B’s? Besides Seguin, Milan Lucic — who was largely invisible in the first six games — broke out last Thursday with a goal and two assists against Toronto, followed by a goal and assist Saturday against the Sharks.
Who’s not hot? In addition to Pouliot, Brad Marchand has no points in his last four games and is minus-2.
The remaining cast are the B’s you know and, er, love.
Jordan Caron/Benoit Pouliot, David Krejci, Nathan Horton
Milan Lucic, Chris Kelly, Tyler Seguin
Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Rich Peverley
Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton
Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk
Dennis Seidenberg, Joe Corvo
Andrew Ference, Steve Kampfer