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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

The Montreal Canadiens must be hoping James Wisniewski can help with some of their problems, while not worsening other issues.

Acquired from the Islanders for a compensatory second-rounder in 2011 and conditional fifth in 2012, Wisniewski brings a heavy shot and snarly attitude to Montreal. He will help the power play, which is actually the only part of the Habs’ game that isn’t desperately hurting right now as the club limps through a 2-7-0 stretch.

The Habs surrender far too many scoring chances, often because their defense corps is comprised of slow (Hal Gill, Jaroslav Spacek), somewhat battered (Josh Gorges) and inexperienced (P.K. Subban, Yannick Weber) players. For about 25 games, many of these mistakes were masked by the bacon-saving play of Carey Price. The goalie remains Montreal’s best player on most nights, but hasn’t been able to cover up every breakdown the way he was before this recent skid.

Circumstance no doubt played a role in Wisniewski leaving Long Island with a team-worst minus-18 rating, but it’s safe to say he is not the stabilizing force the Habs blueline presently lacks.

As mentioned, his bread and butter is in an area where the Canadiens are already feasting a bit, on the man advantage. OK, feasting is a strong word, but even with Andrei Markov on the shelf, the Habs have climbed to the middle of the pack in terms of power play percentage after an atrocious start to the year in that area. Problem is, Montreal needs to be better than that because it can’t consistently produce goals at 5-on-5. In their past three outings, the Canadiens have just two even-strength tallies.

All three of Wisniewski’s goals this year (two of which, ironically, came against Montreal) have been on the PP, where 13 of his 21 points also originated. His task is to use that cannon of his to propel the Canadiens up the power play charts and relieve the burden on the overall attack.

The big question, though, is whether he can boost the goal total without increasing the burden on an already-overworked Price.

Some have theorized that Wisniewski’s arrival could cloud Weber’s future with the team, as the former is basically a better, more physical version of the latter. The 26-year-old Wisniewski is eligible to become a UFA on July 1, as are fellow Habs blueliners Roman Hamrlik, Gill and Markov, while Gorges is a pending RFA.

One way or another, more changes are likely on the back end soon, something you could argue is a necessity if the Habs are to improve there. 

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to His blog appears Wednesdays.

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