Habs look to tighten defense vs. Bruins

MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens own the NHL's best record, but they aren't playing at peak performance ahead of battle with the long-time rival Boston Bruins on Tuesday at the Bell Centre.

The Canadiens (10-1-1) won the teams' first meeting on Oct. 22 in Boston, in the middle of their 9-0-1 run to start the season.

Recently, however, Montreal's play started to tail off. In addition to allowing 14 goals in the past two games — a 10-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday and a 5-4 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday — the Habs are also seeing their shots against rising considerably.

Montreal has allowed at least 35 shots on goal in four straight — including at least 40 in two of those games — and more than 30 in each of the past five games.

Despite the high volume of rubber his goaltenders are facing, Canadiens coach Michel Therrien isn't overly concerned.

“I remember last year, there was a stretch in December where we were outshooting our opponents 40, 42 to 20, 19, 17, and we were losing 3-(1) or 4-1,” Therrien said. “There was panic across the province. That year, we had a good start. Lately, we've been giving up more shots, but these are things that will correct themselves. Am I worried? No.”

Therrien acknowledged the team does have things to work on. And while he didn't specify, discipline and the penalty kill are certainly areas Montreal would like to get back on track. Penalized five times in each of the last three games, the Canadiens saw their penalty kill take a hit in their past two outings, allowing four power-play goals against the Blue Jackets and another two to Philadelphia.

That potentially is good news for the Bruins, who finally got their power play clicking in their 4-0 win over the Sabres on Monday. Boston (7-5-0) went 3-for-8 on the man advantage against Buffalo; the Bruins were 3-for-38 heading into that contest and had allowed as many short-handed goals as they had scored power-play goals. One of those short-handed tallies came in the previous meeting against Montreal.

“A little practice (in the morning skate) and obviously some pride in making sure that they were the difference-makers instead of ending up on the negative side,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said of his power-play units following the win.

The Bruins also are keeping opposing goaltenders busy of late. While averaging 27.5 shots on goal per game overall, Boston has picked it up recently, surpassing the 30-shot mark in four of its past five games.

Julien wouldn't confirm who his starting goalie would be against the Canadiens. On Monday, Tuukka Rask started his fifth straight game since returning from injury, and he made 32 saves to blank the Sabres. Rask, who was out when Montreal played at Boston, is 5-15-3 with a 2.69 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage lifetime against the Canadiens.

“It's one of those games I don't think any player really wants to miss because it's a big rivalry and they're a great team,” the netminder said when asked if he would play Tuesday, adding that the decision isn't up to him. “Definitely don't want to miss that, but we'll see.”

If not Rask, rookie goaltender Zane McIntyre would be eyeing his first career win in his second NHL start.