BROSSARD – Special teams received some special attention on Monday at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard.
After going 0-for-4 with the man advantage against the Penguins on Saturday before eventually giving up the game-winner on the penalty kill in overtime, there was a renewed focus on restoring power to the team’s eponymous unit during the Canadiens’ first practice of the week.
Ranked 27th league-wide at the midway mark of the season with a power play efficiency of just 13.7% – the team’s lowest average with the extra attacker in over a decade – head coach Michel Therrien dedicated Monday’s entire practice to special teams, while also making a number of on-ice personnel changes for good measure.
“We can never predict what’s going to happen, since losing a couple of games will always bring changes,” admitted David Desharnais, who practiced on the third line, flanking Lars Eller opposite Dale Weise.
Tied for second on the team with six power play points, Desharnais has a pretty good idea of what ails the team’s struggling unit, which has converted on just 16 of 117 opportunities so far this season.
“There are a couple of issues. First off, we’re having trouble getting the puck in their zone, and it’s hard to create scoring chances if you can’t get the puck in,” explained the 28-year-old Laurier-Station, QC native who has registered a pair of power play markers this year. “But when we do get in, our decision- making isn’t great. We pass when we should be shooting, and we shouldn’t be throwing away opportunities to get pucks on net like that.”
Despite the Canadiens’ issues on the power play, the team still finds itself ranked fourth in the East with 55 points already in the bank following 41 games played, not to mention tied for third in the NHL with 26 wins – just two less than the league-leading Nashville Predators.
Which is why for some, the prospect of a well-clicking power play unit finally coming together just in time for the team’s annual playoff push is reason to be optimistic.
“I always love these practices where we just work on the power play,” acknowledged P.K. Subban, who was the Canadiens’ special teams scoring leader a season ago. “It’s an area that’s key to most teams heading into the second half of the season. That’s been true for us for the last few years I’ve been here at least, so we just have to keep working at it.”
Mixing and matching his power play personnel on Monday, opting to go with four forwards on the first wave, Therrien is banking on some fresh faces providing the spark the team is searching for.
“We want to spread the other teams out a little bit more, wear down their penalty kills, and get them running around,” suggested Max Pacioretty, who practiced on a unit comprised of Desharnais, Subban, P.-A. Parenteau, and Brendan Gallagher. “At the end of the day we don’t want to be too predictable – we want to move around and switch positions as much as possible and get some player movement as well – but we liked the formations we saw in practice today and now we just have to translate that to the game.”
Steven Nechay is a writer for canadiens.com
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