Coach Michel Therrien's frustration is starting to boil over.
Once again, his Montreal Canadiens fired blanks despite outshooting their opponent as the rival Boston Bruins pulled out a 4-1 victory Tuesday night before a booing crowd at the Bell Centre.
After starting the season with a division-leading 19-4-3 record, the Canadiens have fallen into a 4-16-1 funk. The loss to Boston dropped them out of a playoff position.
"I honestly hope that not one person will criticize the effort," said Therrien, his voice cracking with emotion. "That has to stop.
"These guys are giving everything they have. Is the execution there? No, but that will come."
The Canadiens (23-20-4) outshot Boston 39-24, but managed only a second-period goal from defenceman Mark Barberio.
Patrice Bergeron broke a 1-1 tie in second period as the Bruins (24-16-5) won a third game in a row. Max Talbot, David Pasternak and Brad Marchand, with an empty-net goal, also scored for the Bruins, who avenged a 5-1 loss to Montreal in the NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 1. The team's wore their Winter Classic jerseys in the rematch.
There was a report that Therrien may be fired if the Canadiens lost the game. There was no word on that afterwards, but it is widely believed the club won't make a decision on the coach until after star goalie Carey Price returns from a lower body injury, likely after the Jan. 31 all-star game.
Backup Mike Condon has played reasonably well in Price's place, but it is clear the team skates with more confidence with the 2014-15 Hart and Vezina Trophy winner in goal.
After a day off, the team will resume practice Thursday to get ready for its next contest Saturday night in Toronto.
'I can't believe how well he's handled this and how positive he's been with us.' - Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty on head coach Michel Therrien during team's 4-16-1 stretch
Captain Max Pacioretty said the squad's troubles can't be blamed on Therrien, their coach since 2012.
"He's been absolutely phenomenal through all this and that's what makes it so hard," said Pacioretty. "I can't believe how well he's handled this and how positive he's been with us.
"Night after night we haven't been able to step up for him and that's frustrating because we all believe. We're all on board. We believe this is the way the game is supposed to be played."
It was a tough night for the top line as Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher were all minus-3, and for defenceman Andrei Markov, who was benched — and booed — after some giveaways.
Therien leapt to the 37-year-old's defence.
"He is a true professional," he said. "But sometimes the body doesn't follow the mind.
"It happens to every player at a certain age. He isn't done, but sometimes it's tougher. We just played four games in six nights."
Markov was the goat on Boston's opening goal in the first period as Condon stopped Talbot on a breakaway, but Andrei Markov's weak pass went straight back to Talbot for a shot in off the goalie's glove..