I don't know if five games make a pattern, but Canadiens fans had better hope not.

Friday night's 3-0 loss to the Thrashers in Atlanta was a total no-show for the Canadiens, with the lone exception of Alex Auld whose 44 saves were the only reason this wasn't an embarrassing blowout.

This was preceded two games earlier by the Canadiens going through the motions over the final 40 minutes in a 3-2 loss in Philadelphia, and two games before that it was the same story in a lackluster 3-0 loss at home to the Nashville Predators.

In between those three losses, the Canadiens played near-perfect hockey in a 2-0 win over Toronto and a 4-1 win over Los Angeles.

I am inclined to say the real Montreal Canadiens are closer to that winning team than they are to the losing team that failed to show up in Georgia, but if that's the case, how can this bi-polar condition be explained?

The Canadiens appeared to be skating through quicksand over the final 40 minutes of the game Friday after playing a half decent first period, except a very late goal with only 19 seconds left on a sloppy play by Hal Gill and Josh Gorges gave Atlanta a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes.

Yes, that's deflating to a team, but you have to be very weak mentally to not be able to bounce back from such misfortune.

In the losses to Philadelphia and Atlanta, Montreal was outshot by a combined 44-9 in the second period. In one case the Canadiens were ahead 2-0 after the first, in the other they were down 1-0, but in both cases the first intermission completely drained their intensity.

The one bright point of this little inconsistent run is it runs counter to what this team has done all season.

The Canadiens have only lost two games in a row one time this year, and it is that consistency that still has them atop their division and near the top of the league standings.

If this current stretch is the Canadiens idea of a slump (there I go using that word again), then things could definitely be worse.

I have little doubt Montreal will be ready to play Saturday night at home to the Sabres, who also played Friday and beat Toronto 3-1. The issue, particularly if they happen to beat the Sabres, will be which version of the Canadiens will show up Wednesday night when they face the lowly Edmonton Oilers?

The same one we saw against Nashville, Philadelphia and Atlanta, or the pretty darn impressive one we saw in between those games?

Building an identity – to use a Jacques Martin favourite – is a process. And it would appear we are in the midst of a component of that process.

How they come out of it may go a long way towards determining if this team is as good as it has looked all season long, or if the first quarter was a bit of a mirage.