Habs' skid sparks speculation

(From L-R) Montreal Canadiens Ryan White, Hal Gill, goalie Carey Price and Roman Hamrlik look on...

(From L-R) Montreal Canadiens Ryan White, Hal Gill, goalie Carey Price and Roman Hamrlik look on from the bench during the final moments of their loss to the Washington Capitals in their NHL hockey game in Montreal March 26, 2011. (REUTERS/Shaun Best)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:31 AM ET

MONTREAL - They hadn’t scored in three games, former Hab Georges Laraque is saying the coach has lost the room and their place in the standings had been receding like spring snow.

Like this winter which refuses to loosen its grasp, the chill around the Montreal Canadiens had been grim, but a warming trend might have started Tuesday night with a 3-1 win over the Atlanta Thrashers at the Bell Centre.

The Habs went into the game without a goal in three games (186 minutes and five seconds) or since Tom Pyatt scored the eighth goal in an 8-1 win over the Minnesota Wild March 20. They hadn’t gone four games without a goal since 1928 (their record for longest stretch between lit lamps is 320:57). This was their longest drought since 1949. It grew to just a couple of tick less than 200 minutes before Montreal defenceman Roman Hamrlik gave the Habs a 1-0 lead and allowed a city to exhale.

The win came after Canadiens coach Jacques Martin bag skated the team Sunday after they had a season-low 18 shots on net in their 2-0 loss to the Washington Capitals Saturday on home ice.

Was it just a couple of weeks ago, the Habs were challenging the Boston Bruins for the Northeast Division lead and the third seed in the conference?

Going into Tuesday night’s game, they had slipped to two points out of eighth with the pursuing Buffalo Sabres holding a game in hand.

But what a night of swings. The Sabres lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday night and now the Habs, who have five games left, have a four-point edge over Buffalo, though the Sabres have a game in hand.

The ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes, who host the Habs Wednesday night, beat the Washington Capitals in a shootout, so they kept the gap behind the Habs at seven points. Tuesday’s win for the Habs went a ways towards running the ’Canes out of track, at least when it comes to catching the Habs (the ’Canes are just three points behind the Sabres now, though).

“Right now our fate is in our own hands,” said Canadiens defenceman James Wisniewski. “We don’t have to worry about any other teams trying to beat each other for us to sneak into the playoffs. We just have to win and we’ll stay in a playoff spot. Now we just need to shake those last three games off and hopefully when we get one, the floodgates will open.”

You have to take what Laraque, who’s been dabbling as a politician with the Green Party, has to say with a few grains of salt. He said on a panel show he’s heard Martin has lost the confidence of some players, but Laraque is a player who was unceremoniously dumped by the Habs a year ago when he was bought out of the rest of his contract in the middle of the season. Martin has never been a fan of the enforcer.

It all added to the intrigue and given the Habs’ performance over the last few games - especially their complete capitulation to the Boston Bruins in a 7-0 return match after that hit by Boston Bruins defenceman on Canadiens winger Max Pacioretty - you can understand how some people are making the relationship between coach and players a talking point.

The Canadiens had been such a good story this season with the emergence of goaltender Carey Price after the trading of last spring’s playoff hero, Jaroslav Halak, and the way they’ve battled after losing top defencemen Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges for the season with knee injuries.

Is this current fallow period just a lull all teams go through, although it could be at the worst time heading into the playoffs?

Or is it indicative of a deeper issue?

With their win over the Thrashers, the Canadiens dealt a blow to the conspiracy theorists.


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