Canadiens search for power-play success
BROSSARD, Quebec (AP) Being lousy on the power play didn't stop the Montreal Canadiens from finishing first in the Atlantic Division, and being even worse in the first round of NHL playoffs hasn't prevented them from taking a 3-1 lead over the Ottawa Senators.
But it is an area they hope to improve as the games get tighter and the postseason tension mounts.
The Canadiens' power play ranked 15th out of the 16 playoff teams Thursday, with only one goal in 16 attempts. Yet, Montreal can close out the best-of-seven series Friday night at the Bell Centre.
''We're not concerned. You have to take it for what it is,'' winger Brendan Gallagher said. ''You look at the whole. We're up 3-1 in the series. It's a very important game, obviously. If we allow them to win this game, then they have momentum going home. We just have to match their desperation level and the power play is a part of it.''
Coach Michel Therrien said his team works regularly, on the ice and in meetings, to find ways to get scoring chances. Even 40-year-old defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who hasn't played in the series but is a veteran power-play point man, chips in with ideas during video sessions.
Max Pacioretty scored the team's only man-advantage goal so far in the second period of Game 2.
''To have success, the first thing you have to do is execute,'' Therrien said. ''Right now, our execution is not quite as sharp as we're looking for.
''We've got to make sure we make the right decisions with the puck, make sure we get net presence, make sure we take the right shot at the right time. We discuss the power play every day with the players to make sure they're on the same page. If we do that, eventually we'll have success.''
The Canadiens' power play is sometimes criticized for being too predictable. It centers on two excellent point men, Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban. Teams, including Ottawa, have learned that covering them closely limits Montreal's options.
It was the same in the regular season when Montreal ranked 23rd in the 30-team league with a 16.5 percent scoring rate, yet still produced a 50-22-10 record.
A few teams that won Stanley Cups in recent years, including Boston, Chicago and last year's Los Angeles Kings, labored to score on the power play.
But the Canadiens could still use the extra offense, particularly against an Ottawa side that played its strongest checking game of the series in a 1-0 victory to stave off elimination Wednesday night, and whose goalie Craig Anderson has stopped 75 of 77 shots since he took over from Andrew Hammond in Game 3.
Ottawa has three power-play goals and ranks fourth in the playoffs at 25 percent, but two goals came on the same five-minute advantage in the series opener. Montreal, with the gifted Carey Price in goal, was one of the top penalty-killing clubs all season.
''In these close games you've got to find a way to get momentum and hopefully a goal from the power play,'' winger Alex Galchenyuk said. ''You don't always get what you want, but we've got to stick together and keep battling and find a way to get into the scoring areas and create good offensive chances.''
Despite howls to the contrary from some fans, Therrien feels the scoring woes are not a question of personnel, so Gonchar and winger P.A. Parenteau will continue to sit out.
''I like our lineup. We evaluate it every day,'' he said. ''We got our share of scoring chances. You've got to give credit to Anderson. He's playing really well. We have to keep putting pressure on their defense and their goalie and, if you do that, things are going to change.''
Defenseman Greg Pateryn, who made his playoff debut Wednesday in place of the injured Nathan Beaulieu, is expected to play. He suffered a nasty cut over the left eye in a collision with Erik Condra in the second period. He got stitched up and only sat out nearly the entire third period only because Therrien shortened his bench looking for the tying goal.