NEWARK – The Habs may have dropped two in a row in the shootout, but you can bet they’ll be practising something other than breakaways on Saturday.
After scoring just once with the man advantage over seven opportunities on Friday, including 33 seconds of 5-on-3 hockey late in the third and two full minutes of 4-on-3 in overtime, head coach Michel Therrien was rather blunt following the Canadiens’ most recent 3-2 loss in New Jersey.
“Our power play came out flat tonight. That was the story of the game. We weren’t able to generate enough offense on special teams. It’s disappointing,” admitted the Habs bench boss, who also stressed that Andrei Markov’s absence wasn’t to blame. “We played a tight game again tonight. We allowed just 17 shots in regulation. We played well for a second game in a row, but the power play was the difference tonight. It’s not complicated.”
There’s no questioning that the result was disappointing following another strong defensive outing, but with shootouts ending come playoff time, the Habs know where to point their focus over the coming days.
“It’s definitely a blown opportunity. Two shootout losses in a row – those are two points we can’t take back,” acknowledged Max Pacioretty, who registered four shots on Devils netminder Keith Kinkade on Friday. “It’s frustrating because we had more than enough opportunities to close that game out. It’s something that we’re going to have to work on now.”
It’s hard to argue with the Canadiens’ assistant captain after his teammates failed to even register a shot while Scott Gomez spent five minutes in the box following a major assessed in the second, but fortunately the team is confident change is within reach.
“I think power plays are simple. You’ve just got to get the puck to the net and generate traffic. You can draw up 50 million different plays, switch positions, and do all that as many times as you want, but when we’ve had success on our power play it’s been from putting pucks on net, creating traffic up front, and working hard for rebounds,” underlined power play specialist P.K. Subban, who leads the team in scoring with the man advantage with eight goals. “That’s what it takes to score on the power play these days, especially at this level.”
Still sitting atop the Atlantic Division – two points ahead of Tampa Bay after 79 games played – a clicking power play could be the final piece of the puzzle for a Canadiens team which has impressed for most of this season.
“I think we’ve played a lot of good hockey this year and these next couple of games will be important for us to stay sharp. There’s no doubt in my mind that the power play is where we need to be better,” continued Subban. “It’s been up and down, but there have been too many times in my opinion when we haven’t been able to capitalize on it. It frustrating for everybody, but this is the time of the year when we have to figure out what we need to do to put the puck in the net.”
Indeed, there’s no better time than now to figure things out on special teams.
“It factors into games. No one here is thinking it won’t factor into the playoffs. Look at last year versus Tampa and Boston,” recalled Subban, who was part of a Habs squad that lit the lamp with 12 power play goals across 17 playoff games in 2014. “Whatever it is, we’ve got to figure it out.”
That’s a challenge the Habs are definitely up to.
“We have three games left. We don’t like the results of the last two, even if we played well 5-on-5 in the last one,” concluded Pacioretty. “It’s all about getting some momentum heading into the playoffs. There are no more excuses left to make.”Steven Nechay is a writer for canadiens.com.
Words from the room
The Numbers Game: April 3, 2015
Seizing the opportunity
Slowing down a superstar
No time to rest