MONTREAL –- In as a polite and politically correct way as possible, the message from the Sharks’ dressing room and from their head coach was pretty simple on Saturday morning at Bell Centre.
The Canadiens ain’t the Maple Leafs.
The Sharks managed to badly outplay lowly Toronto on Thursday night, winning 4-1 and ending a two-game skid. They’ll try to build off of that against Montreal to keep their playoff hopes alive, but the Canadiens are in first place in the Eastern Conference for a few reasons, one of which is they own the best team goals-against average in the NHL in front of Vezina/Hart Trophy candidate Carey Price.
“Toronto is a different team than Montreal is right now,” Logan Couture said. “We were good [in Toronto], but the competition wasn’t where it’s going to be tonight. This is going to be a much better hockey team with a lot more to play for. We need to be a lot better, every single line, and reestablish our game right from the start.”
Todd McLellan said: “I think we're going to play against a team that's a little deeper and a little faster obviously than what Toronto was. There's a reason why they're at the top of the standings not only in their conference, but league-wide.”
In the only other previous game between the teams less than three weeks ago, the Sharks skated to a 4-0 win in which they held Montreal to just 20 shots on goal. Alex Stalock was in net for that shutout, but Antti Niemi will get the call on Saturday against Price, who allowed four goals on 37 shots in that loss in San Jose on March 2.
Couture didn’t put much stock in that strong performance from his club, either, when asked if the Sharks could carry anything over into their only appearance of the season in Montreal. The Canadiens are 23-8-5 at home.
“You really can’t carry the momentum from a game a year ago or a game three weeks ago. You’ve got to reestablish that,” he said. “This is a different atmosphere and different environment. This is a tough rink to come into and play against a very good team. We’re going to have to be at our best if we want to have a chance against these guys.”
Joe Pavelski said: “It was a really good game for us. You take what you can, but you know it’s a new night. It’s in their building, and you know they’ll be ready.”
The Sharks will apparently stick with their same forward lines against Montreal. That means Couture will center Tommy Wingels and Matt Nieto, while Chris Tierney remains between Patrick Marleau and Tomas Hertl. Daniil Tarasov stays in on the fourth line in place of John Scott, too.
Against Toronto on Thursday, it was the Tierney line that got more ice time at even strength than the Couture line. At Saturday’s morning skate, though, Couture’s line looked to be the second line based on sweater color, as the top six forwards are typically in white.
McLellan didn’t want to slap on any labels, though.
“You guys start reading into the jersey color in the morning -– I probably just wrote them up on the board that way and the trainers threw the jerseys out,” McLellan said. “Don't go there.”
The Sharks are five points out of a playoff spot entering Saturday’s game. They’ll likely have to gain at least nine or 10 of the 12 possible points available on their road trip, which continues to Ottawa, Detroit, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Still, the old one-game-at-a-time cliché remains a team mantra.
“If you’re going to look at the end right now, you’re probably not going to get the result you want,” Pavelski said. “This group has to play loose, have fun, and do all the little things it takes to win. If we can find that on a consistent basis, we’ll give ourselves an opportunity.”