Clinging to a playoff spot, the Canadiens open a five-game homestand Saturday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs looking to avoid a season-high fifth straight loss.
Montreal (36-29-9) has one win since general manager Bob Gainey fired Guy Carbonneau and assumed coaching duties March 9 - a 4-3 victory over Edmonton in his debut the next evening. Since then, the Canadiens are 0-2-2 and on their fourth losing streak of three or more games since Jan. 20, going 9-15-3 in that time.
They lost four straight from Jan. 20-29 and Feb. 6-11 but haven't dropped five in a row since a six-game skid from Feb. 6-17, 2007.
"Our team had been struggling for quite a while, and I think the idea of changing the position of the coach was one to attempt to increase our chances in the last 16 games of the season, and I think we can judge how that goes when we finish our final game," Gainey said.
If Gainey's team wants its final game to be at some point during the playoffs, it needs to improve its defensive play. Montreal goaltenders have given up at least three goals in each of the last five games, and Carey Price's struggles continued Thursday night in Ottawa.
Price was pulled in the 5-4 defeat after giving up four goals in the first 22:28, but Jaroslav Halak took the loss despite helping Montreal get within a goal at the end of the second period.
Despite Guillaume Latendresse's two scores and Tom Kostopoulos' career-high three points, the Canadiens couldn't get the equalizer and dropped into a tie for seventh in the Eastern Conference.
Since returning from an ankle injury prior to starting the All-Star game in Montreal, Price is 4-10-3 with a 3.56 goals-against average.
"I've got to take responsibility. I can't be letting goals in," he said. "It's a group effort but I've got to play better."
Gainey may turn to Halak on Saturday, as he's allowed three total goals in the Canadiens' two victories over Toronto this season, while Price has given up 11 in their two losses. Halak is 3-1-0 with a 2.20 GAA in four lifetime appearances against the Maple Leafs.
Should he start, Halak will need more help from Montreal's penalty killing units, which allowed the Senators to score on both power-play opportunities Thursday. The Canadiens have given up five power-play goals in the last 17 chances.
If the Canadiens don't get back on track soon, Toronto could end up passing them in the standings. The Leafs (29-30-13) are 8-4-1 in their last 13 games and totaled 11 goals in back-to-back victories before Thursday night's 3-1 loss at Florida.
Toronto couldn't add to Mikhail Grabovski's tying goal late in the first period against the Panthers, who took the lead for good with two second-period scores.
"We had chances, and we had good puck possession," goaltender Martin Gerber said. "In the second period, we just lost the momentum, and they were on top of us for a while. We had a tough time getting out of our zone. In the third, we tried everything we could. We had some chances, but we couldn't put it in."
The acquisition of Gerber off waivers from Ottawa on March 4 hasn't helped the NHL's worst defensive team. Gerber is 3-3-0 with a 3.18 GAA since coming to Toronto, and the Leafs, who have given up 248 goals, have allowed 16 in the last four games.