MONTREAL – The Canadiens’ special teams have helped propel the team to the top of the standings.
When a team is ranked second in the league on the penalty kill and fourth on the power play, points tend to pile up pretty quickly. That’s been the case for Montreal this season, as the Canadiens have not only enjoyed the intangible momentum boost that comes with executing at an elite clip with the man advantage; they’ve also gotten five of their 19 game-winning goals in special teams situations.
Clicking at a 23.9 percent efficiency with the man advantage and snuffing out 76 of the 88 opposing power play opportunities they’ve faced, the tides have definitely turned for a team that finished the 2014-15 campaign ranked 23rd
in the NHL with a 16.5 percent power play efficiency.
“I think last year we kind of got stale in our structure on one side and this year, we just have a ton of options,” explained Dale Weise, who set up Max Pacioretty for the game winner on the power play late in the third period against Columbus. “Not many times am I supposed to be working the goal line – I’m more of a slot guy there – but that’s just the way it broke down and everybody filled in. The strong hand of our power play right now is that we can work in so many formations.”
Having failed to connect on their first three power play attempts of the night, the Canadiens weren’t about to let a fourth opportunity slip though their grasp when Scott Hartnell was called for tripping with just over two minutes to go in regulation. Just 25 seconds after Hartnell was escorted to the box, Pacioretty set him free with his fourth power-play goal of the campaign and third game-winning marker.
“It seems like it’s been a trend for us, where when we get these opportunities at the end of the game, we find ways to get it done,” mentioned P.K. Subban, who leads the team with 10 power play points this season, including an assist on Pacioretty’s winning goal. “Patch stepped up today and came up with a big goal. We did a good job of moving the puck and opening that opportunity.”
Counting 33 goals for and just 15 against in the final 20 minutes of action in their 26 games, the Canadiens have been clutch in third periods all season. But before Pacioretty had a chance to put his late-game heroics on display, the stage had already been set by the team’s penalty killers.
After Alexei Emelin was handed five minutes and a game misconduct for interference with just over two minutes remaining in the first period, the Habs managed to not only keep the Blue Jackets off the board, they almost held them out of the shot column altogether.
“Special teams are everything right now for us. Our power play is rolling, it’s getting us momentum, and it’s winning games for us. Our penalty kill is the same,” said Weise, whose team limited the Columbus power play to just three shots on Tuesday night. “They score there to make it 1-1 and we take a five minute penalty and that takes our momentum away. We get a big kill there and we started to build off that. It was huge.
“And our power play has been pretty good late in games this year,” he added. “It’s won us a couple of games. If we keep doing that, teams are going to be scared to take penalties on us.”
Teams may be motivated to be on their best behavior against the Habs, but that will only solve part of the problem; the Canadiens are also sitting second in the league in 5-on-5 action.
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com
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