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dimanche 17 mars 2019

In the Habs' Room: Julien blames ill-timed slump for playoff plight

Corey Crawford was very, very good Saturday night.

The Châteauguay native has a history of playing well against the Canadiens and he boosted his career record against his hometown team to 9-2-2 with a 48-save shutout.

Now that we’ve given Crawford his due, what can we say about the Canadiens as they fall further out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference?

At the beginning of February, the Canadiens came out of the All-Star break in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. After Saturday’s loss, they are ninth and are three points out of the second wild-card spot. They have a 9-10-1 record since the break and have gone 4-7-0 in their last 11 starts.

Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford makes save on the Canadiens’ Brendan Gallagher at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Saturday, March 16, 2019.

Coach Claude Julien attributed the Canadiens’ plight to an ill-timed slump.

“There are two things,” Julien said. “You wonder whether for some guys it’s the pressure or whether it’s a slump we’re going through. There are other teams going through the same thing right now, but they’re in a playoff position and they can afford to do that easier than we can. And the timing isn’t good for us to struggle right now. The effort is there, the caring is there. The only thing missing right now is for our game to be at its best and it’s just not there.”

Those other slumping teams don’t include the teams the Canadiens are chasing for a playoff spot and they have opened gaps on Montreal. Pittsburgh, which is third in the Metropolitan Division, and Carolina, which holds the first wild-card spot, are both 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. Columbus, which is three points ahead of Montreal in the battle for the second wild-card spot, is 5-4-1. The Canadiens are 4-6-0.

The biggest missing ingredient has been goals.

“We have to find a way to score goals,” said captain Shea Weber. “We had good chances, but (Crawford) made good saves and there were some rebounds (but), we didn’t get them in. He made good saves in tight and we have to put them in.”

Crawford noted he grew up as a Canadiens’ fan and it’s always nice to come back and play in front of family and friends. He said the 48 shots were a bit deceptive because “we kept them to the outside.”

He said he was grateful to have the chance to make some big saves early in the game because it was difficult to warm up after the start was delayed by a presentation marking Carey Price’s team-record 315th win.

Nine of the Canadiens’ shots came on the power play, but Montreal went 0-for-4 and is now 2-for-40 over the last 16 games.

“It’s definitely been an issue that has hurt us this year, but we’ve been working on it,” said Jeff Petry. “In an important stretch like this, everyone needs to find a way to click. There are times we’re getting in the zone and forcing plays. We’re having trouble getting into the zone and, once we are in, we’re moving the puck well, but we’re not scoring. We have to find a way to connect all the pieces. We can’t be good on entries and then be a one-and-done power play. It’s going to need all of the guys on the power play to focus because you know how important it’s going to be down the stretch and the playoffs.”

As the Canadiens tried to pull even, Julien made some strange lineup decisions. There seemed to be far too much ice time for the offensively challenged Artturi Lehkonen, whose shooting percentage is a team-low 5.9 per cent, and newcomer Jordan Weal, who managed only two shots on goal. At the same time, Jesperi Kotkaniemi was on the ice for 7:56, the first time in his career he has logged fewer than 11 minutes.

“KK is a young player who is learning,” Julien said. “He had two or three shifts where he let his guy go and he had a chance to score. We have to win. He’s a young player who will be much better in the future. Tonight, it was a question of making decisions based on the situation and the need to win.”


from Montreal Gazette https://montrealgazette.com/sports/hockey/nhl/hockey-inside-out/in-the-habs-room-julien-blames-ill-timed-slump-for-playoff-plight
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