Slumping Canadiens hoping to end goal drought against Maple Leafs

Slumping Canadiens looking for goals

BROSSARD, Que. — The goals have all but dried up for the Montreal Canadiens but they hope to break the drought when they visit the sometimes defensively suspect Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

But Toronto, which is 21st overall allowing 2.87 goals per game, will be just as eager to face a Montreal side that has gone 2-6-1 in its last 10 games and scored only 14 goals.

And Toronto, with two games in hand, has a chance to reduce its five-point gap with the Atlantic Division-leading Canadiens. Especially if the Montreal forwards continue to fire blanks.

“We’ve definitely got to earn a better results,” Canadiens winger Brendan Gallagher said Friday. “Goal scoring isn’t easy, especially at this time of year.

“You’ve just got to up your intensity. It’s not so much the offensive-zone play, it’s more the transition game in the neutral zone. Being smarter with the puck and really sticking to your structure.”

Only four Montreal forwards have scored in the past 10 games. Captain Max Pacioretty has half of the output with seven goals.

Gallagher hasn’t had a point in the four games he’s played since returning from a hand injury. After registering 19 goals in only 53 games last season, he has six in 43 outings so far this year.

Among top forwards, centre Phillip Danault and left-winger Artturi Lehkonen haven’t scored in their last 13 games. Tomas Plekanec has gone 12 games with a goal. Paul Byron has gone 10 while Alexander Radulov is in a five-game rut. Alex Galchenyuk has a goal and two assists in his last 10 games.

Even a coaching change that saw Michel Therrien replaced last week by Claude Julien has yet to spark the attack. The Canadiens are 1-2-0 and with four goals in three games under Julien.

But they’re working on it.

“We’ve done a good job of doing what we talked about defensively, getting the puck out quicker,” said Julien. “We’ve given up less scoring chances.

“But now we’ve got to work on our offence. From playing better defensively and getting the puck, then what do we do? I think one of the big issues is probably our neutral-zone transition, which hasn’t been very good. It’s got to be quick. You’ve got to have support. And then you’ve got to want to make sure you cross the blue-line with speed. Also, there’s the confidence of players.”

The Canadiens worked on those areas Friday and hope to see the results in Toronto. They feel they have the talent to do it.

Even with their recent struggles, the Canadiens remain in the top half of the league with 2.74 goals scored per game.

The youthful Leafs are sixth-best with 3.1 goals per game. Other than James Van Riemsdyk, who hasn’t scored in 10 games, their top attackers are filling the net.

William Nylander and Auston Matthews have three goals each in the last six games and Nazem Kadri has five. However, Toronto might be missing another young talent, Mitch Marner, who is close to returning from a shoulder injury.

The Leafs may be ready to break out after losing 2-1 to the Canadiens in each of their first two meetings in Montreal.

Julien is wary of the Leafs, who scored 10 times in two wins over his Boston Bruins this season before he was fired Feb. 7. Julien signed the following week with Montreal.

“They got a lot of first-round picks that were early picks and it makes a big difference,” said Julien. “Those teams obviously finished low for many years to be able to get those kinds of players, but Babs (coach Mike Babcock) has done a great job of bringing those kids along.

“There’s a lot of skill and obviously a lot of speed in that lineup. We have to play smart. They may be energetic, but we have to use our experience to our advantage. We have to respect their strengths. Those guys, whether its Matthews, Marner or others have been really good for them, but a solid performance by the whole team is what we’re looking for.”

The Canadiens may make lineup changes.

It appears Lehkonen will stay on left wing on the second line with Galchenyuk and Gallagher after being moved up there for the third period of a 3-0 loss to the New York Islanders on Thursday.

Centre David Desharnais, a scratch the last six games, and Sven Andrighetto skated on the fourth line in place of Michael McCarron and Brian Flynn. And Nikita Nestorov replaced Greg Pateryn on the third defence pair.

Julien said final lineup decisions will be made Saturday.

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press

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