MONTREAL -- The Canadiens struggled mightily in the first few weeks of the 2017-18 season, but the club seems to have hit its stride as of late and is playing some solid hockey despite facing significant injury setbacks.
The same, however, can't be said for Montreal's opponent on Thursday night -- the Arizona Coyotes.
"There's no easy games in this league," Canadiens head coach Claude Julien said after practice on Wednesday. "I know you hear that a million times, but it's the truth. We have to show some maturity tomorrow."
The Coyotes (2-15-3) are a young team that has yet to hit its stride under new coach Rick Tocchet. They have lost five in a row since defeating Carolina on Nov. 4 -- a 2-1 shootout victory -- and are 1-9-2 on the road.
"We have to bear down and try to find something," forward Brandon Perlini said. "But that's the game of hockey: Sometimes she goes in and sometimes she doesn't. We're not going to cry about it, I'm certainly not going to cry about it."
Rookie Clayton Keller continues to be the Coyotes top offensive threat with 11 goals and 17 points.
Montreal (8-9-2) is coming off a 2-1 overtime loss at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets, just its second setback in extra time this season. Winger Paul Byron scored his fourth goal of the season, getting his hand on a rebound off a shot by defenseman Shea Weber and tipping it up past Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to tie the game up late in the third period.
In the extra frame, sophomore blue-liner Zach Werenski took a nice drop feed from forward Cam Atkinson and made no mistake, taking a wrist shot that eluded Canadiens rookie goaltender Charlie Lindgren (3-1-1).
Lindgren has been filling in as the team's replacement goaltender with both former Hart and Vezina Trophy winner Carey Price and Al Montoya sidelined with injuries. On Tuesday, the Canadiens claimed veteran goaltender Antti Niemi off waivers from the Florida Panthers.
"For sure it's a tough market," Niemi told reporters on Wednesday, after arriving in Montreal. "Everybody's going to be watching you here, but I feel like you have to be honest to yourself in any place you play. You want to perform. It does not matter where."
Niemi, 34, began the season with the Pittsburgh Penguins as a backup to goaltender Matt Murray but after going 0-3-0 and allowing 16 goals in those starts, he was waived and claimed by Florida. With the Panthers, he played in relief of James Reimer on a couple of occasions, allowing five goals on 39 shots.
The Canadiens' top scoring threats have been Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher, each with seven goals and 12 points.