The Montreal Canadiens are slogging through an offensive slump that prevented even Carey Price from salvaging a victory.
Looking to avoid its first three-game skid since early December, Montreal will try to rediscover its scoring touch Saturday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Montreal (37-16-5) is now tied for the Eastern Conference lead following consecutive losses. Price enjoyed a night off in the Canadiens’ loss to Ottawa on Wednesday, but suffered a 3-2 shootout loss Thursday to Florida – only his second defeat in 12 starts.
With Price in, keeping pucks out of the net has not been an issue. He’s firmly in both the Vezina and Hart trophy discussions with a 1.42 goals-against average in his last 23 starts and a .959 save percentage in his last 11 starts.
Producing at the other end has been an issue in the past month, though. The Canadiens have two or fewer goals in nine of their last 12 games despite averaging 33.3 shots in that same span – 5.7 more than in their first 46 contests.
Montreal, which hasn’t lost three straight since Dec. 3-6, outshot the Panthers 39-21 on Thursday.
"Our team worked extremely hard tonight. Extremely hard. They certainly deserved a better result," coach Michel Therrien said. "We didn’t score more than two goals not because of a lack of effort."
Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban have continued to produce during Montreal’s offensive skid. Pacioretty has two goals and two assists in his last three games, and Subban has six assists in his last five.
They combined for three third-period goals in the span of 3:53 – all on the power play – to knock off Columbus 3-2 on Jan. 14. Montreal held a 31-16 edge in shots.
That defeat was early in a 3-8-0 stretch for the Blue Jackets (26-27-3), who have won five of seven since. Columbus scored three times in the third period to win 5-2 at Philadelphia on Tuesday, then got a short-handed goal from Brandon Dubinsky with 2:17 remaining on Thursday to beat Pittsburgh 2-1.
Dubinsky, who also fought Sidney Crosby, has scored in four straight after posting three goals in his first 26 games this season.
"You could tell that we were focused (Thursday) and there was a commitment from the group going out and doing the right things," coach Todd Richards said.
Columbus had the league’s third-best power play one month ago, converting on exactly 25 percent of its opportunities, but it’s 2 for 29 since. Nick Foligno, who leads the club with 52 points and nine power-play goals, has gone scoreless on the man advantage in his last 21 games.
Curtis McElhinney figures to start in net against the Canadiens, though Sergei Bobrovsky may participate in Saturday’s morning skate and could return next week from a groin injury.
McElhinney has won three straight and five of his last six with a 2.00 GAA. He made 38 saves on Nov. 15, 2013, in his only meeting with Montreal, but lost 3-2 in a shootout.
Pacioretty has five points in five career meetings with Columbus.