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Playoff Notebook - April 23

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD – In Thursday’s playoff notebook, the Canadiens talk power play efficiency, home ice advantage and physical hockey.

Lacking that finishing touch: To say that the Canadiens’ power play has been struggling as of late would be an understatement. The man advantage hasn’t clicked, managing to light the lamp just once in 16 tries through the first four games of the series. That’s a 6.2 percent success rate, which has the Canadiens ranked 15th in the League out of 16 teams in that department. The last time the Habs’ power play units found the back of the net was in Game 2 when Max Pacioretty scored his first goal of the postseason in his triumphant return to the lineup. That inconsistency, however, simply isn’t good enough in a highly competitive series like this one.

“You take it game by game, but obviously we need to be better than we were last game. I think in a game where goals are tough to come by, a power play can be huge. We weren’t good enough on Wednesday night. We know that. We’ll look at the video, and we’re going to be better for next game,” offered Brendan Gallagher, referencing the Canadiens’ inability to capitalize on three more power play opportunities in Game 4, which ultimately proved costly in a 1-0 loss in Ottawa. “Right now, we just have to match their desperation level. For us, the power play is a part of it. I think we just have to bear down and execute, like we do in all facets of the game. All the games in this series have been very close. They’ve been one-goal games. It’s been a mistake here and there that’s been the difference. If we can play sharp hockey, execute our game plan and play a full 60 minutes, we feel like we give ourselves a good chance.”

Clearly, something needs to change in order for the Canadiens to get the results they’re looking for while up a man. Devante Smith-Pelly insists the answer isn’t necessarily making any drastic alterations, but small adjustments here and there.

“I think we just need to simplify it. To start, maybe get some more shots and get them running around a little bit and work our plays,” explained Smith-Pelly, who described the Senators’ penalty kill as “super aggressive”, affording the Canadiens precious little time to set up and establish some momentum. “Aside from last game, we were getting a lot of pretty good chances. They weren’t going in, though. As long as we get back to that, eventually we’re going to pot one.”

Knowing full well just how important the power play will likely prove to be going forward, Therrien has made it a key topic of discussion amongst his leadership group, which is also receiving some key veteran insight from a certain No. 55.

“We’ve discussed it a lot. Communication is really important. We’ve had a lot of meetings. Even if a guy like Sergei Gonchar doesn’t play, he’s a part of those meetings. He made a living on the power play. He’s sharing his thoughts,” mentioned Therrien. “Regarding communication, it’s important just to make sure that we're all on the same page.”

Home ice advantage: Over the course of an 82-game schedule, NHL teams battle for playoff spots, but they also try to secure home ice advantage. They do so not necessarily to play the first two games of the series in their own barn, but to enjoy the comforts of home for Game 5 and Game 7 scenarios, both of which can determine a team’s fate. Michel Therrien’s squad earned the right to play the next installment of their opening-round series against the Senators at the Bell Centre. Needless to say, they’ll have plenty of support in the stands.

“The fans have been outstanding all year long, especially in the playoffs. There’s so much emotion. They give us that extra energy,” offered Alex Galchenyuk, who brought the Bell Centre faithful to their feet in Game 2 with the game-winning tally in overtime. “When you think you’re out of gas, they push you to go even further. You have to feed off of that and be more aggressive. We have to use that atmosphere to our advantage.”

The Canadiens have done just that since the start of the 2014-15 campaign, picking up the second-most wins in the NHL on home turf.

“It’s a place where we enjoy to play. It can be a very hostile environment for our opponents. We feed off the energy from our fans. The Senators fed off the energy from their fans, too,” explained Therrien, whose club registered 25 wins at the Bell Centre this season. “Friday night won’t be any different.”

Hits, hits and more hits: Playoff hockey and physicality go hand-in-hand. It’s the time of year when hits multiply exponentially and players aren’t about to shy away from throwing their weight around. The Canadiens–Senators series has proven to be anything but soft. While Michel Therrien’s troops dished out an average of 20.7 hits per game in the regular season, they’ve upped that number to 37 hits per game through the first four games of the series.

“It’s very physically demanding for the guys right now. They really have to battle. You have to give credit to both teams. When you look at the playoffs in general, teams play hard. It’s the best time of the year to be playing hockey,” offered Therrien, who has seen the Senators dish out an average of 48 hits per game so far this series.

For his part, Alex Galchenyuk isn’t surprised at the way things have escalated in the physicality department. It’s something players prepare themselves for well in advance of the playoffs.

“All of the training and the preparation that we do during the summer and all season long is for times like this,” explained Galchenyuk. “Everyone needs to play their best hockey, stay focused and be ready to give it everything they’ve got night after night.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for

Words From The Room - April 23
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