Recent struggles raise some big questions for the Canadiens

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KuznetsovEvgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals
Kuznetsov led the way in a 4-1 win over the Canucks, scoring a pair of goals and assisting on another on his way to finishing a plus-4.

BartkowskiMatt Bartkowski, Vancouver Canucks
Bartkowski had an up-close look at Kuznetsov's outburst, finishing a minus-4 in the loss to the Capitals and failing to register a shot on goal.

Are the Canadiens reaching the danger zone?

Pierre LeBrun@Real_ESPNLeBrun: When does a funk become a season-killing slide? The Montreal Canadiens are certainly playing with fire. The Habs played a whale of game in Montreal on Thursday night, launching 40 shots at Corey Crawford and the Chicago Blackhawks but losing 2-1 to continue a horrid trek that has seen them lose 14 of their past 19 games. Afterward, Habs captain Max Pacioretty dismissed any silver lining in having mostly outplayed the Hawks, who have now won nine straight. Moral victories are of no use right now, the captain said. "What we need is two points," Pacioretty said. A popular refrain back on Jan. 1 at the Winter Classic was that perhaps the 5-1 thumping of Boston in front of 70,000-plus on such a huge stage would be a springboard for the Habs. Their players truly believed that. It has not happened. And the killer has been the team's inability to finish off scoring chances. "We've got to find ways,'' said winger Brendan Gallagher. "We have guys capable of doing it in this locker room. We're not looking for answers from outside. We believe in each other and we still have that belief.'' If you're GM Marc Bergevin and your team is just two points away from the danger zone, are you really still looking to add a piece before Feb. 29, or do you now have to reconsider? Will Carey Price's return after the All-Star break be the only tonic they need?

Craig Custance@CraigCustance: Bergevin has to continue shopping, because if the Canadiens rely this much on Price to win, something is fundamentally wrong with the way they are built. What really struck me about this game, though, was Corey Crawford. Holy smokes, was he good. I think this may be the year there's a universal appreciation for what Crawford means to the Blackhawks, and there were a couple of sequences in this game that showed his compete level and why he's the perfect goalie for this team. His .929 save percentage this season is the highest of his career, and he continues to own the team that he grew up rooting for in the Canadiens. He has two Stanley Cups and a .921 career playoff save percentage. It's time to get past the notion that he's not a big part of the Blackhawks' success. He absolutely is.

Scott Burnside@ESPN_Burnside: Craig, 24 hours ago you were wanting to put the brakes on my suggestion that Chicago was destined for the top of the Central Division, and now you are banging the Crawford drum? Hmm, I see a wager in the offing. Agreed, Crawford is very much in the Vezina Trophy and Team Canada discussions, or at least should be. As for the Canadiens, sure, there is lots of time left to get things right, but let's look at the reality of the situation. They have allowed a series of teams they'd left in the dust after the first month to close to within inches of their comfortable playoff spot. Never mind one of the secure spots in the Atlantic Division, the Habs are only a day or so from sliding into wild-card territory. And then all bets are off with the Carolina Hurricanes having won four in a row, the Pittsburgh Penguins playing better and the Philadelphia Flyers also on a tear. It's too early to suggest the postseason is in jeopardy, or is it? Not so sure anymore.

Joe McDonald@ESPNJoeyMac: That must have been one heck of a game to watch in person, Pierre. I can only imagine how Montreal fans felt after the Canadiens dropped that one to the surging Blackhawks. A great sequence of saves by Crawford in the second period was a throwback to the '80s, and it secured the Blackhawks' 2-1 lead. It's obvious the reigning champions have hydrated enough and the Stanley Cup hangover is gone. Crawford and his teammates are playing with extreme confidence. As for the Canadiens, you can't blame backup goalie Mike Condon for this skid, but yes, Pierre, Montreal needs Price back. He's a calming influence between the pipes and the voice of reason on the ice. When he returns, you're going to see a completely different Montreal team.

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