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Learning on the fly

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
MONTREAL – With just one preseason game left on the schedule, the Canadiens now have a pretty good idea of what they need to work on before the season starts. The area they’re looking to improve the most: making their special teams a little more special.

After going 0-for-6 on the power play against the Sabres, the Habs will likely be spending a little more time working with the man advantage before heading to Quebec City this Saturday. But even more troubling to the Canadiens’ new captain was the three power play goals his team gave up.

“It was us just not moving our feet right from the start,” admitted Brian Gionta, who finished a plus-1 in his first game with the “C”. “We were back on our heels and they were taking it to us. When you’re chasing, you’re going to take penalties and that’s what happened tonight.

“Too many mistakes, not moving our feet, getting outworked and getting beat to pucks. That’s definitely not where we want to be,” continued Gionta. “But we’ve got one more [game] to turn things around and make sure we’re going on the right course.” 

Despite kicking aside 32 of the 37 shots he faced in the outing, the team’s best penalty-killer may not have been thrilled with his performance on Thursday night, but he was still able to see the silver lining in the loss. 

“You know, some strange things happened in the game. Obviously I’ve got to be better and make some saves, but it was the first chance I’ve had to get a lot of shots and see a lot of pucks which was nice,” explained 29-year-old netminder Alex Auld. “It’s nice to have to work through those games and have to keep battling. After each goal, I had some tough stops to make right away. That’s a nice challenge too because in the season, you have to make the saves and it doesn’t matter what just happened.”

While having penalty kill specialists Tomas Plekanec, Hal Gill and Josh Gorges back in the lineup will definitely help the Habs’ shorthanded cause in the regular season, P.K. Subban has already learned the hard way that his team’s best penalty strategy is to not be in the box in the first place.

“Obviously we’re not trying to take penalties. Sometimes you get a bad bounce and sometimes they are undisciplined penalties,” admitted Subban, who had two penalties against the Sabres. “You have to try to stay out of the box, but this is how you learn. You learn in preseason and then come the regular season, if you’re going to be playing in the penalty box, teams have good power plays and they’re going to bury it.”

Subban and his teammates may have lost the game, but they definitely didn’t lose the lesson in Thursday’s tilt.

“It’s about building confidence and always trying to take a step forward,” offered the 21-year-old rookie. “It takes time. You’ve got to be patient and realize not every game is going to be easy out there. You’re going to have tough games. It’s just a matter of finding chemistry out there and we’re still building a team. It’s a process.”

The team may end up spending a little more time in PP meetings in the coming days, but according to Mathieu Darche it all goes back to just keeping things simple.
“There are definitely things we need to address. In the regular season, those cute little plays we’re making aren’t going to work,” underlined Darche, who slipped his first goal of the preseason past Jhonas Enroth in the second period. “Look at our goals tonight; they weren’t pretty goals, they were a result of forechecking hard, going to the net and getting rebounds. With how good the players are across the league now, you’re going to have to score ugly goals.”

Darche & Co. may be hoping to bang home some goal crease rebounds on Saturday night, but with snipers like Michael Cammalleri and Plekanec set to re-join their teammates for the last preseason game, there might be a few highlight-reel goals on the docket this weekend, too.

Shauna Denis is a writer for

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