But the man who looks to be back in control of things is Carey Price, who backed up his team record-tying 53-save performance of Saturday night by stopping 30 of 32 shots and all six shooters in the shootout in Tuesday's much-needed 3-2 Habs win over the hapless Carolina Hurricanes.
The two Carolina goals left little chance for Price, who saved his best for last with seven saves in overtime and another six in the skills competition. His save on Erik Cole with about 20 ticks left in overtime was particularly dazzling, and Price was a visibly relieved man afterwards that he grabbed a victory after being robbed of one in Music City.
“It feels good to get a win," Price said. "We did it again in overtime or a shootout, but I’ll take it. We work really hard preparing for games, and it’s finally starting to get rewarding a little bit.”
Price admitted that during his month-long, six-start losing streak - over which he allowed 26 goals in 19 periods of action - he started to have some doubts whether his technique was ever going to start working.
“Oh definitely, when I was going through a hard streak I didn’t know what to do," Price said. "When you’re going through a tough patch it’s really tough, especially when you’re putting in the work and you don’t know what’s wrong. I had a feeling like I had to change something but I didn’t, I just stuck to it.”
He also had a good chat with his dad, whom he said "brought things down to reality."
Over his last five starts, Price has allowed only 10 goals on 171 shots, good for a save percentage of .942 and a goals against average of 1.94. That's more like the franchise goalie everyone expected Price to be, even though five starts is nowhere near enough of a sample size to say he is completely out of the woods.
Still, it's a giant leap in the right direction.
“It’s been a work in progress," Price said. "I’ve been putting the same work in for the last month and I’m finally starting to see results now.”
As encouraging as Price's work has been, his teammates are still showing little sign of life. The Habs were 2:46 away from losing to a Hurricanes team missing Eric Staal, Joni Pitkanen, Cam Ward and Scott Walker, one that snapped a 14-game winless slide Sunday with a 5-4 shootout win where it blew a 4-1 lead midway through the game.
The first 58 minutes was a real cure for insomnia, with broken plays, sloppy passing and neutral zone muck-ups being the most common characteristics. Even Andrei Kostitsyn's tying goal at 17:14 of the third couldn't be considered a real scoring chance, though he deserves credit for sticking with the play and making something out of nothing.
Just imagine, if you will, what would have happened had Kostitsyn not been able to pull that goal out of a hat. The Habs would have lost to the worst team in the NHL one game after hanging their goalie out to dry in Nashville. I asked Jacques Martin afterwards what effect a loss would have had on his team's psyche, which was a question meant to emphasize just how important the win actually was.
I don't think he took it the way I meant it.
"I don't waste any time dealing with what-ifs," Martin said, with an assist to CTV's Brian Wilde for the "what-ifs" part because the coach was looking for the right word. "If I stopped to think about that, I wouldn't sleep. I stay in reality. We won the game."
Yes, coach, that's correct. You won the game. Woohoo. But the fact remains that your team has produced a grand total of eight goals in six games, and the only reason you've managed to win three of them has been the play of your goalie. As impressive as Price has been, it's unreasonable to expect him to maintain this level of play for ever. Same goes for Jaroslav Halak.
At some point, coach, your team will have to start scoring goals.
"I don't want to go back on this, but we're missing our best defenceman and one of our top forwards, that's part of it," Martin said, when questioned a second time by the same reporter as to why his team can't score goals. "But you have to find a way to win hockey games."
Tomas Plekanec, who extended his team scoring lead with two assists to give him 19 points in 21 games, has a better theory than his coach, though the injuries to Andrei Markov and Brian Gionta are factors that can't be ignored.
"I think we've got to do a better job of going to the net and battling hard around the net," he said. "When we're doing that we're fine. Sometimes you also need a little bit of luck, but I think we can do this kind of thing a little better and we can score some more goals like that."
The lack of "this kind of thing" was blatantly evident without Gionta in the lineup, who scores most of his goals "like that." And what was made even more evident by Gionta's absence was the lack of effectiveness being shown by Scott Gomez, who is now pointless in four straight games. Could it be that Gomez is only good when he plays with Gionta? Is that a good player to be building your team around? Is Gomez even a good player?
While I'm being all negative and everything, I'll leave you with this. I'm not sure if the TV cameras picked this up, but I definitely saw Roman Hamrlik hobbling off the ice in overtime, and the look on his face was one of sheer pain. I have no idea if the injury is severe or not, but the way things have been going around here, would it surprise anyone to find out he'll be missing the next game, if not more?
If that's the case, if Hamrlik is out for any extended period, then you can simply pack it in for this season. Without Hamrlik, I doubt this team would even have four wins at this point, and if he's lost then whatever's not working for the Canadiens right now will only get worse, I'm sad to say.