BROSSARD - After scoring his third game-winner in his short stint with the Canadiens on Saturday, it's clear that Ilya Kovalchuk is having a direct and serious impact on the club's climb back into the playoff picture.
For Claude Julien, the situation is not unlike one he saw last year when another veteran player joined the team - also by way of Los Angeles - and breathed new life into the locker room.
"It reminds me a bit of the situation last year when we got Nate Thompson. They're two professionals who have a good attitude. They like working with the young players and they set a good example," outlined the coach of the one-time Kings teammates. "That's what's important when you go out and get veterans. The young players are watching them closely. When you have good examples like them, it really helps to develop our young players."
The 36-year-old Russian sniper has 12 points (6G, 6A) in 15 games with Montreal since joining the team on January 3, and it's no coincidence the Habs have won nine of their past 12 with him in the lineup.
"He's certainly a big reason why we are where we are right now," praised Thompson of Kovalchuk. "We're still making our push for it. He's been helping us bigtime."
If the Habs want to continue their upward trajectory in the standings, they'll need more than just the Kovalchuk factor. And given that they've only been able to convert on one power play opportunity in their past four games, their work with the man advantage is one area where they'd like to see some improvement.
"We just don't seem to be as confident at moving the puck quickly and creating shots. It has to be a little bit more confident and a little bit more assertive," said Julien, whose Habs are tied for 18th in the League with a 19.6% power play this season. "We seem to do it in practice and it looks good in practice, but we get in the game and I don't know if we get nervous, or the confidence isn't quite as good as it is in practice. But hopefully we find that groove soon, because that's certainly a part of our game that can help us win games."
Video: Claude Julien's pregame press conference
The Canadiens face a Coyotes team on Monday that is also fighting for its playoff life, but that doesn't mean they'll get the same emotional jolt they got from beating the archrival Toronto Maple Leafs in a Saturday night classic at the Bell Centre.
Still, Julien doesn't think his troops will be lacking in motivation when they take to the ice against Arizona.
"At the end of the day, it still comes back to where we're at. We just can't afford to have letdowns; we can't afford to lose too many games," recalled the coach, whose team sits five points out of third in the Atlantic and six out of the second and final Wild Card spot. "We just have to stay the course, continue to play one game at a time, and understand how important a win is to us in the standings."
For his part, Thompson believes the Coyotes will be in tough against a squad that knows it needs to be as close to perfect as it can be.
"We need to just play well again and find a way to win. We're just playing desperate right now," shared Thompson, who has two points (1G, 1A) in his last three games. "We know that we don't have a lot of room for errors, so we have to go out there and play desperate. I think when you're playing against a desperate team, it's usually a pretty dangerous team."
Video: Thompson on Kovalchuk helping the playoff push
Julien said he'd likely be sticking with the same lineup that beat the Maple Leafs in overtime on Saturday, barring any unforeseen circumstances.
The coach did not have any concrete updates on captain Shea Weber's injury situation, except to say that he would not be traveling with the team to Boston or Pittsburgh and would also likely not be available for Saturday's game at home against Dallas.
On the other hand, Paul Byron took part in Monday's optional skate and though he's not ready to return quite yet, he will be making the trip with his teammates on Tuesday.
The Canadiens welcome the Coyotes to the Bell Centre for a 7:00 p.m. start. For tickets to the game, click here.