Canadiens getting their Bell rung

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:42 AM ET

MONTREAL -- The Bell Centre or the Hell Centre?

The latter label might be a more appropriate description by the Montreal Canadiens of their home digs recently, a lively cavernous rink where they are winless in their past six outings (0-4-2) heading into their nationally-televised showdown against the longtime rival Maple Leafs tonight.

In a city where hockey reigns supreme, the Habs have been forced to deal with struggles on home ice, a flurry of trade rumours and a recent rash of injuries.

Pretty much describes the early-season woes of the Leafs, doesn't it?

After defeating the Habs 3-2 on a late Matt Stajan goal in their only previous visit to Montreal this season on Nov. 3, the Leafs probably are having a nice chuckle at what Les Canadiens are going through right now. Chalk it up under the department of "Been there, done that."

Having gone 12 games without a goal, Canadiens captain Saku Koivu has had plenty on his plate to deal with recently, not the least of which being a rumour insinuating the Habs and San Jose Sharks might be discussing a deal that would ship Koivu and underachieving winger Michael Ryder to the left coast for Patrick Marleau and one of Steve Bernier or Joe Pavelski.

The report erroneously was attributed to TSN analyst Bob McKenzie, who immediately denied making any such statement. McKenzie, one of the most respected hockey journalists in this country, is not in the habit of being a rumour monger, but that did not stop the scuttlebutt from allegedly fuelling chatter on local talk radio.

Yet another aspect of life when you are a Montreal Canadien -- or, for that matter, a Toronto Maple Leaf.

IT HAPPENS

"Guys in the hockey world know these things happen in Toronto or Montreal," Koivu said yesterday. "Most players (in those cities) are used to it.

"It can be a distraction if it keeps going on and on. Then again, if teams are actually calling about you, maybe it's a good thing because it means you must be playing well."

While a 4-1 victory in Philadelphia on Thursday ran the Canadiens road record to 10-5-1, a mediocre 5-6-4 home mark has some local media members calling for the Habs to don their white road jerseys tonight. Given the thousands of vocal Leaf supporters in attendance at the Bell Centre, maybe the hosts, in fact, will feel like it is a road game.

"I just think we press too much at home," Koivu said. "If we don't score early on, we tend to push things and get away from the patient game that is effective for us on the road."

Forwards Andrei Kostitsyn (knee) and Guillaume Latendresse (undisclosed) skipped practice yesterday and are questionable. Rookie goalie Carey Price, meanwhile, will get the start against the Leafs, a team he has gone 2-0 against with a 2.88 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.


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