BROSSARD – At the tail end of an up-tempo practice on Saturday morning focused primarily on establishing good offensive flow, the Canadiens lined up to practice their shootout moves on Carey Price and Peter Budaj.
While both goaltenders turned aside most of the shots against, hulking rearguard Douglas Murray managed to turn both netminders inside out with cleverly executed dekes.
“It’s awesome, nobody expected that. I don’t know where he pulled those moves out of,” remarked Rene Bourque, who is tied for the team lead with three power play goals thus far this season.
By comparison, Murray has only one power play marker over the course of his nine-year NHL career.
“I’ve tried that move before in the minors and actually scored a game-winning goal with it, but it’s never happened in the shootout,” offered the Swedish defenseman, who is far better known for his hitting and shot-blocking prowess than his soft hands around the net.
While his surprising demonstration of offensive flair was a welcomed distraction for his teammates, Murray himself is focused squarely on the team’s immediate needs ahead of Sunday evening’s game against the New York Islanders.
“We have to get a win. It’s never easy when you lose several games in a row, but we’ll be ready tomorrow,” insisted the 6-foot-3, 245-pound defenseman. “If we win our battles, get into the high traffic areas and grab the loose pucks, we’ll have a chance to produce more offensively.”
Bourque echoed Murray’s comments after practice.
“We’ve scored one or two goals per game in the last five games. You might be able to win one or two if our goalie steals the game, but it’s tough to win a lot scoring so little,” acknowledged the Lac La Biche, AB native. “Offensively, we need to get more bodies in front of the net and look for second and third opportunities. It starts in our own end, breaking out with speed, taking it wide and getting shots through. We’re getting a lot of our shots blocked right now, so that’s a big factor.”
Captain Brian Gionta, who started the season alongside Bourque but is now skating on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty, also chimed in on what needs to be done to unleash the team’s offensive potential.
“If you’re not getting out of your zone clean, if you’re not coming through the neutral zone with speed, you’re not going to be able to generate much in today’s game. You’re not going to be able to establish a forecheck. When we’re on our game, we’re able to use our speed, open the ice up and create goals,” explained Gionta.
With veteran players putting the team’s attacking philosophy into action, head coach Michel Therrien is confident that his squad will soon be lighting the lamp on a more consistent basis.
“In the last game [against Ottawa], we had 18 scoring chances. When the chances are there, you know that you’ll end up scoring eventually,” stated the Habs bench boss. “I liked the intensity of our team. We generated quality chances. I encourage my players to go to the net, take shots and execute their plays. As long as we keep up with that, we’ll have success.”
Therrien also took the opportunity to provide an update on the status of Alexei Emelin and Daniel Briere, both of whom are close to returning to active duty.
“Emelin is very close to being ready. He is skating well and doing contact drills without problem. He’ll meet with his doctor on Monday. It’s looking good,” mentioned Therrien. “Briere is following the protocol. I liked his practice this morning. He will not play [against the Islanders] but perhaps next week.”
Meanwhile, the Habs will look to end a four-game winless skid against the Islanders at the Bell Centre on Sunday. A playoff contender this season, the Isles recently acquired 40-goal man Thomas Vanek from the Buffalo Sabres in an effort to add more firepower to their lineup.
“The Islanders have been getting better every year in the last four or five years,” acknowledged Bourque. “There are no easy games. We’ll have to be prepared.”
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
The finish line