Getting outshot 48-23 by the Devils on Saturday provided good reason for the Montreal Canadiens to get back to the basics at practice. General manager and head coach Bob Gainey stressed the fundamentals on Monday, with 20 minutes devoted to individual puck battles and cycling in the corners and along the boards.
"This time of year, those defensive zone battles are huge," said defenceman Mike Komisarek. "You want to be communicating with your teammates out there, you don't want to have miscommunications and two guys taking one of their players. So on the defensive side it's good to work out the kinks in practice."
Practicing the basics has long been part of Gainey's coaching strategy when it comes to reminding the players about their responsibilities on the ice.
"I haven't really coached full time in a long time, but I have a memory of needing to go back and do that three or four times a year - to let the players start at the base and add layers, thin layers to a drill such as end zone coverage," said Gainey.
A crisp productive practice was sorely needed after Gainey's first week back behind the bench. The team during his latest tenure produced a win over a playoff bubble team, an OT loss to the team with the league's worst record, and a regulation loss to a tough New Jersey squad. Montreal's performances have been very inconsistent with the playoffs just around the corner, and on Tuesday they face the New York Rangers, with whom they are tied in the Eastern Conference standings.
"Everyone knows what's at stake, especially in (Tuesday's) game," said forward Christopher Higgins. "It seems like we're going to be saying that for the rest of the games...there are always going to be teams next to us in the standings that we're playing down the stretch here."
"We can't just hope right now that we can get to overtime and hopefully get a breakaway, (that way) at least we have one point. We can't think that anymore," said forward Alex Kovalev. "We have to - right from the start - take the lead and control the lead all the way to the end and get the two points. That's the way we have to look at it right to the end of the season."
Kovalev will return to the line-up on Tuesday after missing the last two games with a flu bug, but now Alex Tanguay seems to have caught the same virus. If he can't play, then Guillaume Latendresse will return after a six-week absence due to a shoulder injury.