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Montreal Canadiens

Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens sit 29th in the NHL. (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens sit 29th in the NHL. (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Montreal Canadiens surprisingly find themselves dead last in the Eastern Conference with the league’s second-worst record (1-5-2).

The Habs are 24th overall in goals-against (26), have the second-worst power play (3-for-32) and are 20th overall on the penalty kill (80 percent).

Aside from a 5-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets back on Oct. 9, the Habs haven’t had more than a one-goal lead in any of their games. And they squandered any leads they did have, notably against the Colorado Avalanche and Toronto Maple Leafs.

Montreal's defense has struggled, due in part to injuries to veteran blueliners Andrei Markov, Jaroslav Spacek and off-season addition Chris Campoli.

Rookies Alexei Emelin and Raphael Diaz have consequently received more playing time and responsibility than they otherwise would've received at this stage of their young NHL careers.

Spacek might return by week's end, but Campoli isn't expected back until December and it's anyone's guess when Markov's surgically reconstructed right knee will be ready for action.

Star goaltender Carey Price has had a couple of shaky performances, but overall he's done his best. Without him, the losses to the Avalanche, Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres would have been by bigger margins. Price has been hung out to dry by his defense far too often.

At forward, underachieving center Scott Gomez, who carries a cap hit of $7,357,143 per season for three more years, continues to be a disappointment. In fact, he’s been so ineffective that his recent upper body injury was viewed by Habs faithful as a positive development.

The Canadiens continue to lack depth in big, skilled forwards and are losing the physical battles on most nights.

Given the Canadiens’ woeful start, their demanding fans and critical media have grown concerned, pointing out the club's faults and calling on management to do something to stop the bleeding.

Their fear is the Habs will eventually find themselves in a hole too deep to climb out of if they don't start stringing wins together soon.

GM Pierre Gauthier made a minor move over the weekend, picking up fourth-line center Petteri Nokelainen and minor league defenseman Garrett Stafford from Phoenix in exchange for minor league forward Brock Trotter and a seventh round draft pick, but no one believes this move is the one that will right the ship.

There's a growing belief in Montreal and around the league Gauthier will fire coach Jacques Martin if the Habs fail to reverse their fortunes within the next couple of weeks.

The biggest criticism levelled towards Martin is his apparent unwillingness to give more ice time to left winger Erik Cole, especially in power play situations.

Martin opted not to use Cole, who was expected to provide more size and offensive punch when he joined the Habs as a free agent this summer, in any of his four power play opportunities against the Maple Leafs on Saturday.

When a young reporter asked Martin why, he icily chastised her for not doing her research and pointed out Cole only had three power play goals last season with the Carolina Hurricanes.

To be fair to Martin, he hasn't been given the best hand with which to work.

Losing two experienced puck-moving defensemen such as Markov and Campoli certainly hurts. Reliable blueline workhorse Roman Hamrlik was allowed to depart last summer via free agency and no suitable replacement has been found.

Gauthier opted not to bury Gomez and his huge salary in the minors, a move critics believe would've freed up significant cap space to add more depth to the lineup in the summer.

The addition of Cole aside, Gauthier was unable to address the club's long-standing need for more skilled size and toughness at forward, especially at center.

In addition to speculation over Martin's future, the Habs struggles have led to trade rumors.

A report in Sunday's Ottawa Sun suggested left winger Andrei Kostitsyn was available in exchange for help on the blueline.

Kostitsyn's remarks to a Belarussian reporter that slammed Martin in the summer (though Kostitsyn claimed he was misquoted) are likely behind any trade speculation.

Another factor that makes Kostitsyn expendable is his streaky scoring. While he has netted 20 or more goals in three of the past four seasons, he's never fulfilled offensive expectations.

However, despite their struggles, things aren’t all bad for the Canadiens.

Price's performance and that of sophomore blueliner P.K. Subban will improve.

Sniper Mike Cammalleri has returned to action after a cut to his leg sidelined him for a week.

Left winger Max Pacioretty has six points in his first eight games and is showing no lingering effects from the season-ending hit he sustained at the hands of Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara last March.

Unfortunately, Pacioretty may have a new problem after he left Monday's game against the Florida Panthers with a wrist injury. 

Center Tomas Plekanec has five points in eight games and young center Lars Eller has shown promise filling in for Gomez on the second line, picking up two assists in the 5-4 loss to the Leafs on Saturday.

Given time, the Canadiens have enough talent to turn things around, but patience has never been a virtue in the demanding Montreal hockey market.

If the losing continues for another week, bigger changes will be demanded, either on the roster, or behind the bench.

Rumor Focus appears Tuesdays and Thursdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla's Korner.

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