National Post

Injury bug

With stars Price and Gallagher sidelined, the Canadiens are struggling as they face division rival Senators

- By Wayne Scanlan

Because it takes six months t- o get to the real NHL sea son, teams are constantly balancing the big picture against recent results. There is no better example of this than the Montreal Canadiens, the Senators next opponent.

For weeks, the Canadiens were the poster child for consistenc­y in t-he Eastern Conference. They start ed the season 9- 0, then when they did lose a game here and there the Habs didn’t drop more than two in a row for the first eight weeks of the season.

They were healthy, scoring goals i-n bunches. And when their decor ated goaltender, Carey Price, went down with a knee injury at the end of October, the Canadiens set out to prove they could win without him. T- hey did, behind rookie Mike Con don.

Now that all seems so yesterday. The club’s health went south when pesky forward Brendan Gallagher s- uffered two broken fingers block ing a shot and was soon joined on the sidelines by Price, again, along with forwards Devante Smith- Pelly and Torrey Mitchell.

Price won’t be back until around m- id- January, and the bloom is def initely off the rose of ‘ we-can- winwithout- Carey.’ Montreal has won t- wo of seven games Price- less, in cluding losses in four straight, all in regulation time.

Watch and it’s clear they are still skating well, but for whatever reason, they can’t close out games.

In their latest loss, 3-2 in Detroit Thursday, the Habs blew a thirdperio­d lead for the second night in a row.

“We took a really bad penalty for their tying goal and we turned the puck over on the winning goal,” C-anadiens head coach Michel Ther rien said afterward, suddenly down on his team. “That’s the story of our game right now.”

S- coring is at the heart of Mont real’s problems, best exemplifie­d in a power play that is 0-for-9 in recent games.

With Gallagher out since Nov. 22, the pressure to score goals has fallen to ringleader­s Max Pacioretty, T-omas Plekanec and young Alex Gal chenyuk. Plekanec hasn’t scored in 14 games.

Where were you on th e night of Nov. 7? That is when Plekanec last s-cored a goal, in a game against Bos t-on. He had two breakaways on for mer Ottawa 67’s goalie Petr Mrazek i-n Detroit, two of four missed break aways by Montreal.

As a team, the Canadiens have 97 goals scored, the most in the Eastern Conference, but they have just 11 in their past six games. That’s not a lot of run support for goalies not named Price.

Galchenyuk hasn’t scored in five games, but had five in four games prior to that. Pacioretty hasn’t scored in his last four games, during which he’s -5.

As the Senators can attest after outplaying Tampa Bay for large stretches Thursday night, only to lose to the Lightning 4-1, teams have t- o score when they have momen tum, or almost certainly will regret it later.

At the Bell Centre in Montreal Wednesday, the Habs threatened to r- un the Bruins out of the rink, out shooting them 26-14 over the first two periods, yet carried only a 1- 0 lead into the third period. Two quick goals by Boston — 42 seconds apart — buried the Canadiens.

Condon’s save percentage in his last three games: .870, .897, .842.

That last and lowest figure came against the Washington Capitals on Dec. 3. Condon yielded three even- strength goals on 19 shots against. This was a night that saw Montreal pepper Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby with 35 shots, and only beat him twice.

Dustin Tokarski took the loss in Detroit, but given the way the Senators have owned him over the years, expect Condon to face Ottawa. O- verall, Condon remains a respect able 9- 5- 3 with a 2.28 goals- against average and .911 save percentage.

Until December arrived, the Habs needed binoculars to see back to the rest of the Atlantic Division. Not anymore.

In today’s equal- opportunit­y NHL, teams seem to be just a short losing streak away from trouble and a- winning streak away from promin ence.

Stalled at 41 points, the first-place Habs have seen their lead shrink to f- our points over second- place De troit, prior to the Red Wings game against New Jersey Friday.

The Senators are six points back of the Canadiens, and have played one fewer game than Montreal. This season, the Senators and Habs have split their first two games, with the visitors winning each time. I-n the previous three seasons, Ot tawa has given its divisional rival fits, with a 7- 3- 3 record from 201213 to 2014-15.

Of course, each team has playoff bragging rights stemming from a split of the two series, the Senators winning in 2013 and the Habs this past spring.

In the big picture, the Canadiens s- hould be able to remain competi tive until Price and Gallagher return to the lineup.

On Saturday at the Bell Centre, though, the Senators have a shortterm goal of pulling to within four p-oints of the division leaders, a pos sibility they couldn’t have imagined a couple of weeks ago.

 ?? adrianlwy d / the cana dian pressilf es ?? Senators centre Jean- Gabriel Pageau and Canadiens goalie Mike Condon. Montreal is hurting without Carey Price.
adrianlwy d / the cana dian pressilf es Senators centre Jean- Gabriel Pageau and Canadiens goalie Mike Condon. Montreal is hurting without Carey Price.

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