|Maple Leafs hope to have Matthews back vs. Canadiens|
MONTREAL -- Life doesn't get any easier for the reeling Montreal Canadiens when the streaking Toronto Maple Leafs visit the Bell Centre on Saturday.
The Canadiens (8-10-2) are coming off a 5-4, home-ice loss to the last-place Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, a loss Montreal coach Claude Julien called "unacceptable, embarrassing." It was the Coyotes' first win in regulation this season.
The Canadiens lost two games in a row and are 2-2-1 on their current homestand, which closes out against Toronto.
The Maple Leafs (13-7-0) are winners of five games in a row and could have forward Auston Matthews back in the lineup after he missed the past four games with an upper-body injury. He will be a game time decision.
"I felt like before I got injured I was playing at a pretty high level, and it's always frustrating when you come back and you're obviously not going to be there right away," Matthews told TSN.ca after practice Friday. "I'm trying to get a feel for everything each and every day. I feel like I have a ways to go to getting the feel for the puck I had and just the pace of play I was playing at before."
Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said the team's medical staff will determine Matthews' status on Saturday.
"They'll decide probably after the morning skate and see where he's at and go from there," Babcock told the team's website. "We'd love to have him back. We'd like to have everybody on deck, but that's not the way the league works. You've got to find ways to win games no matter who's in."
Julien said he's interested to see how his team bounces back.
"It gives this group an opportunity to show some character and show that the game (against Arizona) was unacceptable and they want to redeem themselves," Julien said on montrealcanadiens.com. "No matter what, we need to bounce back from a bad game. I would expect to have some pride and bounce back."
To add to the Canadiens' issues, forwards Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Drouin and defenseman Jordie Benn missed practice Friday with the flu.
Montreal is three points out of the second wild-card position in the Eastern Conference.
"You only have so much time to get yourself into the race, so it would be nice at least be in the talk right now. I don't think we're doing that," Canadiens defenseman Karl Alzner told the team's website. "We have some games where I think teams really respect our play and then we have other games where I think it's just like 'meh' and that kind of where we're at right now."
Toronto is coming off a 1-0 win in overtime against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday. Babcock said one of the keys to the Maple Leafs' improved play has been cutting down high-quality scoring chances.
"Especially early, give your goalie a chance to get into the game, so that's been positive," he said. "We haven't turned over the puck as much. In saying all that, though, we've got a long way to go. We're not playing at the top of our game. We'd like to play better and spend more time in the (offensive zone)."
Babcock said he expects a tight checking game against the Canadiens.
"The last time we played there was no space," he said of the Maple Leafs' 4-3 win in overtime Oct. 14. "I don't expect there will be any space (on Saturday). You've just got to be patient and enjoy that. Sometimes it's probably not that entertaining for the fans, but we like winning."