First, a disclaimer: I saw only the first two periods of last night's game because of the super-late start. However, it turned out two periods were quite enough to see what's going on.
Now, perspective: The Habs are not a terrible team, they're just playing one on TV. Carey Price is not suddenly a sieve, Tomas Plekanec and Josh Gorges suddenly lazy or Jacques Martin suddenly a complete moron. The Habs are slumping, yes. However, they have not simply forgotten how to play the game they played earlier in the year.
The development of a slump is like a toothache. It starts with a little throbbing. You can't stop touching it, and it starts to get sore. After a couple of days, it's the only thing you can think about and you start trying just about anything to relieve the pain. For the Canadiens, what began as a lacklustre effort against the leafs has now become a full-blown panic.
It's not the time to lose it, though. It's the time for Martin and Muller to bring some stability to a pretty confused team. It's not helping to have Lars Eller playing wing on the Plekanec line when he's been a centre all his life. He was working well with Benoit Pouliot and Mathieu Darche, and he should go back to that line. Kostitsyn, Cammalleri and Plekanec started the season together very well and there's nothing to say they can't click again. Pacioretty is helping out the Gomez/Gionta line and they should stay together. When things are bad, people naturally turn to the familiar to find answers. They're looking for confidence, and they'll find it where they found it before. It may be rough for a few more games, but there's a better chance of emerging from slumpdom if the players feel secure in their linemates and know they'll be given a chance to work together to find an answer.
There are a lot of little things the Canadiens are doing wrong...pinching at the wrong times, flubbing passes, circling backwards instead of driving ahead, making low-percentage rushes with only one guy, failing to make simple clearing passes...but bag skating them is not the answer. They're not stupid. They know things are going badly. A video session showing clips of what they were doing right earlier in the year, juxtaposed with examples from the last few games might be more enlightening. If that's followed by a solid practice with work on the flagging fundamentals, it could actually translate to success on the ice.
In any case, what this will come down to is desperation. At some point...it may be tomorrow against Carolina or some other night a week from now...all the thinking and worrying about mistakes will stop and the desperation to win will take over. Then the basic element of winning hockey games; getting to the puck first and moving it forward with speed, will kick in and they'll win. Until then they'll tinker with the lineup and try different punishments/motivations to get players going, but none of it will work. They'll lose until they do the little things right, first among them skating hard all game.
That's the biggest difference between what they were doing in October versus this month. Then, they were first to loose pucks, everybody was backchecking quickly and the forwards were moving on breakout passes. Now they're often second to the puck and reach for it with their sticks rather than pushing for it with their bodies. Backchecking forwards are gliding back rather than racing and forwards are stationary on the boards on the breakout. All of that will turn around again when desperation kicks in and there's no other solution but to put their heads down and skate.
In the meantime, we need to understand every team has slumps. The Caps, when they were losing eight in a row looked like total bums, but we know they're not. Neither are the Habs. Bad habits creep in, and good players drive them out again. We just have to refrain from dumping on everyone associated with the team while we wait for that to happen.
After all, these are the same players who looked great to start the season. They still can play hockey. They just have to remember the basics and get back to them. That's not to say the team doesn't have weaknesses. Markov's place on the blueline cannot be filled long term with Alexandre Picard. The first line can't find its way with a different winger every game. Still, they managed to win before with some of those same weaknesses and no team is perfect. The Habs will win again because they're really not as bad as they've looked.