BROSSARD - The Canadiens have scored four power play goals in their last four games and did some work on the man advantage at practice on Wednesday morning, although head coach Claude Julien said it was just a part of the routine.
"We do that just about every second practice to keep our focus and to find ways to improve. It's just a part of practice," explained the Habs' bench boss. "We'll take goals however they come, whether it be at even strength, on the power play or even while shorthanded. We'll continue trying to improve that part of our game."
Julien confirmed that Carey Price would make his return between the pipes on Thursday in Minnesota, after the 30-year-old watched backup Al Montoya defeat the Senators earlier in the week. As well, Andrew Shaw sat out practice with the flu, but Julien said he would be joining his team for their three-game road trip, with weekend stops in Winnipeg and Chicago following the game against the Wild.
The power play isn't the only area where Julien has seen some improvement. When asked about the recent play of Jordie Benn, the coach provided an encouraging progress report on the Victoria-born rearguard.
"His decision-making is better [than at the start of the season]. He's moving the puck more. When you move your feet, the rest of your game tends to follow," outlined Julien. "That's what Jordie's been doing better lately."
Video: Claude Julien on working on the power play
Benn's enhanced play of late might have something to do with Julien's recent decision to shuffle his defensive pairings. While rookie Victor Mete's NHL orientation with Shea Weber continues, Julien moved Brandon Davidson onto a duo with Jeff Petry. That leaves Karl Alzner to skate alongside Benn, who feels the change has helped him turn the corner.
"It depends on the game and how the guys are feeling. You can see that line combinations get mixed up now and then. Karl and I are together right now and I think we're doing pretty well," suggested Benn, who skated for 17:20 of ice time on Monday in Ottawa, including 2:35 on the penalty kill. "We had a little bit of a rough go there, and I was a part of that. It's nice to turn it around and get a couple of wins."
Video: Jordie Benn on his pairing with Karl Alzner
For his part, Petry took the changes in stride, and agreed that the decision to alter the duos on the backend was bearing fruit.
"It's something throughout the course of the year, whether it's forward lines changing or D pairings, you know it's going to come. You have to communicate well with your new partner. Since the changes, we have been playing a stronger defensive game," added Petry, who has averaged 19:26 of ice time in his last four games, contributing five shots, an assist and a plus-2 rating in the process. "It seems to be working right now."
The Michigan-born defender - who got a Movember head start on his teammates by shaving off every part of his beard except the part above his upper lip on Wednesday - affirmed that changes to the NHL's rules enforcement took a bit of getting used to.
"It's tougher to defend when you're tapping a guy on the side and [knowing] as soon as you touch anywhere around his hands, you're going to get called. It's a little bit tougher to make sure you have your stick down," noted Petry, who said he's been moving his feet more to compensate for the change. "The little taps to deter a guy from going have been eliminated. It is a little bit tougher with taking the stick work out."
Video: Jeff Petry on getting a head start on Movember
Carey Price also spoke to reporters after practice, and provided the goaltender's perspective on the impact of the rules enforcement, positing that a League-wide increase in scoring can likely be attributed to the stricter enforcement.
"It's harder for a guy who's out of position to get even with your stick. As soon as they have a step on you - which happens a lot, because guys are looking for that stuff - you see those skilled, quality guys that think the game are seeing that," Price offered. "It's hard to defend that when you can't touch anybody. You need to almost be thinking ahead of the game and be in position beforehand."
Video: Carey Price on his team's improved offensive output
With three wins in their last four games, the Canadiens are taking advantage of the shift to generate some offense of their own. With a renewed sense of confidence, they'll be carrying their newfound momentum with them as they head over to the American Midwest.
"We're in good spirits. It was a good practice today, there was a lot of smiling out there and messing around, but also good, hard work," concluded Benn. "We're confident going into the road trip."