BROSSARD – In today’s notebook, Therrien mixes things up on the power play, Gilbert talks depth on defense, and the Canadiens get set for a home-and-home with Buffalo.
Trying something different: While the Canadiens’ power play has been clicking as of late, Michel Therrien’s troops still rank 25th in the league with the man advantage, lighting the lamp just 12.7 percent of the time on the year. With that in mind, the veteran bench boss decided to mix things up on Thursday at the Bell Sports Complex, sending four forwards out on the first wave of the power play, including Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, Lars Eller and Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, along with defenseman P.K. Subban.
“We want to try different looks. We worked at it at practice, but that doesn’t mean that we’re going to use it during games. We want to take some time to think about it. But, before we go into games, we believe that we need to practice it,” offered Therrien, whose club will battle a Sabres squad on Friday night in Buffalo that sits 24th in the league in short-handed situations. “We want our power play to have more of a shooting mentality. We want the guys to put more pucks on net, and we want to be able to move the puck around to create those opportunities. That’s the reason we worked on the power play.”
Eller, who rotated in and out with Jiri Sekac on the power play during the on-ice session, insists the formation definitely has its advantages, especially if the group works as a cohesive unit.
“I think that lots of the top five power plays in the league have four forwards. It’s not unusual at all,” confided Eller, who is still looking for his first power play goal of the season. “I think having four forwards can be very beneficial, but it all has to come together. If you don’t compete and work well together, it doesn’t matter. It starts with competing and executing plays. Once we do that, we can talk about all the other stuff.”
One player who is fairly familiar with the formation Therrien utilized on Thursday is Parenteau, who got a healthy dose of it during his time with the Colorado Avalanche.
“It gives us more options. A guy like me might play at the point, and that will allow me to go down low and to give David an option at the side of the net,” offered Parenteau, who sits tied for the team lead with two power play markers in 2014-15. “I played the point in Colorado practically all of last season, so I’m used to playing there. It’s a position I like to play.”
The second wave of the power play featured forwards Alex Galchenyuk, Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher, along with defensemen Andrei Markov and Sergei Gonchar.
Close to the vest: While Michel Therrien has already decided whether or not the Canadiens will feature six or seven defensemen against the Sabres on Friday night, he wasn’t prepared to reveal that choice before the team departed for Western New York, opting instead to make it known on game day.
“Right now, we’re going through a stage where there’s going to be inside competition. We’ve played with seven defensemen. I’ve made my decision, but you’ll find out on Friday,” explained Therrien, who did confirm that Carey Price would get the start in goal on Friday night. “You need defensemen. You need depth. We find that it’s a luxury we have. We need to have a good mix, and we believe that we’ve got that good mix right now.”
Veteran rearguard Tom Gilbert is certainly in agreement there.
“I’ve been on teams before where one guy goes down and all of a sudden there’s a domino effect. It’s just the way the game goes. We’ve been fortunate to stay healthy,” offered Gilbert, who ranks fourth on the team in average ice time per game, logging 19:36 of ice time per outing. “It’s good that we have great depth like that. It’s good that we’re staying healthy, and it’s nice to know that if something does happen, we have guys who can fill those roles.”
Staying grounded: The Canadiens might sit 19 points clear of the Sabres in the overall standings, but that doesn’t mean Michel Therrien & Co. are taking their upcoming back-to-back tilts against Buffalo lightly. Despite getting off to a miserable start to the year, the Sabres have made strides as of late, recently stringing together their first multi-game winning streak of the season.
“They’re a team that’s been playing a lot better since the start of the year. They’ve rattled off a few consecutive wins,” mentioned Parenteau, who scored the shootout winner against the Sabres back on November 5 at the First Niagara Center to lift the Canadiens to a 2-1 victory. “It’s a bit cliché, but there are no easy wins in this league. You have to be ready every night, especially on the road. They’ll be ready for us. ”
Therrien shared similar thoughts in his post-practice press conference on Thursday.
“Every game is important. We approach every game with enthusiasm and with a serious nature. It won’t be any different on Friday night,” stressed Therrien. “Buffalo is a team that got back on track. They weren’t easy to play against the last time around. They’ve started to play solid hockey. It will be a good test.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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