It's back to bad hab-its

By PAT HICKEY
Montreal Gazette
Thud.
That was the sound of the Canadiens Express falling off the tracks.
One loss, it's a tough break.
Two losses, it was a tough team.
Three losses, especially a loss in a game you should have tied, it's a losing streak, and suddenly it's like last season all over again.
What's gone wrong? Maybe the Canadiens have been taking sips from the Alouettes' water bottles. Maybe Jupiter is not aligned with Mars. Maybe the bounces are going the wrong way.
Maybe Michel Therrien's lions are a little dazed and confused, convinced that it's 1995 or 1998 or 2000 or any of those other sad and sorry and best-forgotten campaigns since that 1993 Stanley Cup - and oh, how long ago that seems.
Or maybe they just aren't that good. Or just maybe (stop me if you've heard this one before) it's the injuries. After icing the healthiest team seen in these parts since my great and good friend Red Fisher was a cub reporter, that old injury boogaloo is biting again.
In Washington, Oleg Petrov ran into some of that new-arena glass that turns shoulders into mush. For now, they're saying it's just a bruise, but stay tuned. Then 13 seconds into last night's game, goalie Jeff Hackett goes down, stays down, comes up holding his shoulder the way you hold a torn sack of groceries.
The diagnosis? Dislocated left shoulder, and we'll see an outstanding goaltender again - well, we don't know when.
Jose Theodore came in and had just about enough time to realize he wasn't going to play spectator for the night when Slava Kozlov tapped a deflection that became a Hoyt Wilhelm knuckleball (or Tim Wakefield, for those of you who were born after Ed Sullivan went off the air), a 12-hopper that started as an Alexei Zhitnik slapper and finally slid under Theodore's skate.
After that, it was pretty much the kind of game that made you wish you had stayed home and watched something entertaining, like the mould growing in your bathroom.
It was the kind of night when you wondered why they sent Sheldon Souray off for decking Jean-Pierre Dumont in the third period - it was the best shot either team had all night.
Then again, maybe the Habs would have been better off had Souray been sent off for the night, because it was Souray who was playing left pylon when Chris Gratton slid the puck behind him for the winning goal.
Painful in any circumstance, doubly painful after the Canadiens battled, and battled, and tied it when Richard Zednik hammered in his own rebound with 3:27 to play - only to see Gratton get it back 22 seconds later. Because Doug Gilmour assisted on the Zednik goal in his first appearance against his former team, it seemed for a few seconds as though the Hollywood script was almost writing itself, until M. Gratton called in the rewrite team.
Then again, how many games can a team expect to win when its forwards score exactly one goal (Zednik's) in three games? Or when it fires upwards of 60 shots in the general direction of the Sabres goal - and gets only 23 on net?
This is old hat, the Canadiens being stoned by a Buffalo goaltender, but this time his name was Martin Biron. Just like Dominik Hasek, however, he had the Canadiens snipers talking to themselves.
"He's so big," Brian Savage said. "I tried to go high on him a couple of times, but he covers everything. That one shot off the draw, I don't even think he saw it, but it hit his shoulder."
Gilmour, who said a couple of times that he was just happy to be playing again, did not look out of place after being promoted to the number two line between Zednik and Martin Rucinsky, although he protested otherwise.
"It's only my second game and those guys are flying out there," he said. "Me, I'm just trying to keep up. I think I'll feel better next week."
No doubt he'll feel better too if the Canadiens start winning again, because they've now lost both of the games Gilmour has played for the CH, although he isn't remotely to blame.
"It was that shift after the goal ..." Savage muttered on his way to the showers. "All that work and then - junk."
Fallen off the bandwagon, have we? Oh ye of little faith. The reality is that the Canadiens don't have a Jaromir Jagr to bail them out on nights like this. Like most teams in the NHL, they have to be clicking on all cylinders. They started the season that way and other than one horrendous period against the Capitals, they've been alright.
They need to score goals, they need to stop taking bad penalties, they need to stay healthy. But hey, it isn't all bad news. They can't possibly lose another game before next Friday.