The Montreal Canadiens will try to snap a five-game losing streak when they open a three-game homestand Tuesday with a matchup against the Ottawa Senators.
The Senators, who reside in last place in the North Division, would seem to be the perfect foe for the slumping Canadiens to face. However, the Senators have won three of the four meetings between the two teams this season, including both ends of a back-to-back set in Ottawa last week.
It was after that second setback, a 5-4 shootout loss, that the Canadiens decided to fire head coach Claude Julien and associate head coach Kirk Muller. Assistant Dominique Ducharme was promoted to take over for Julien.
Still, the losing continued for Montreal, which was swept in a two-game series at Winnipeg, falling 6-3 on Thursday and 2-1 loss in overtime on Saturday. The Canadiens lost the latter contest despite outshooting the Jets 41-21, as Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck turned away 40 shots.
“It’s a big game for us,” Montreal defenseman Joel Edmundson said after practice Monday. “I thought the last game we took a big step. We were happy with how we played. It would’ve been nice to get a couple of more goals, but we’ve got to make that next step and get a couple of points under our belt.”
The firing of Julien caught some by surprise considering Montreal began the season with a 7-1-2 mark and looked like a legitimate North Division title contender. However, the Canadiens have won just twice in 10 games since (2-5-3) while dropping into fourth place.
“We’re a team that’s going through some adversity right now,” Edmundson said. “I honestly think that it could be a good thing. It’s good to experience adversity. It makes you a stronger team down the line.”
Ducharme said he has been happy with his team’s response since taking over despite the two losses.
“I like the way the players are receptive,” he said. “They want to work. I’m happy with our players. I think they’re heading in the right direction. The results will come.”
If not, Ducharme joked he knows he will hear about it from the Montreal faithful.
“I grew up a Canadiens fan. I knew the day that I was named interim head coach that I would have about 8 million assistant coaches beside me,” Ducharme quipped. “It’s fine. That’s passion. It’s one of the reasons why it’s special to play in Montreal.”
Ottawa, which sputtered to a 2-12-1 mark to begin the season, has gone 6-3-0 since. The Senators come in after taking two of three games at home against the Calgary Flames, including a 5-1 victory on Monday night.
Drake Batherson scored twice to tie the franchise Ottawa record with goals in six consecutive games.
“I said to the boys, ‘I think the last time I scored six like that was maybe peewee (hockey),'” Batherson said with a big smile. “I don’t know. Everything I’m shooting is going in. … I’ve got to thank my teammates. They’re making some great plays out there.”
Senators coach D.J. Smith said, “He was dialed in right from the get-go. He was even better there in the third (period). He dialed in, gave our team a chance to get our feet going and certainly was the best player on the ice for us.”
The victory Monday was the fourth in five games for the Senators.
“Ottawa has played us well so far this year, so it’s going to be a challenge, but we’re definitely ready for it,” Edmundson said. “We’re excited to play. It’s good to be back in Montreal.”
–Field Level Media