MONTREAL - Midway through the season, the Canadiens have finally started scoring first. Now they just need to start scoring on the power play.
Heading into Saturday’s game with a 16-1 record overall when handling icebreaking duties since the start of the season, Habs fans had reason to be optimistic once again after Max Pacioretty beat Marc-Andre Fleury top shelf to open the scoring late in the first.
Matching the Penguins’ intensity while firing 28 shots on net – not to mention getting another All-Star performance in goal from newly-named All-Star Carey Price – the Canadiens did almost everything they needed to to wrap up a second consecutive season series win over Pittsburgh. Almost everything.
“I liked the way we played 5-on-5 tonight,” admitted head coach Michel Therrien. “It was a close game, which is what we wanted, especially against a team with so many offensive weapons, but I can’t say the same about our power play. That was the difference tonight.”
With four opportunities to extend their lead with the man advantage, the Habs were nevertheless unable to capitalize on the power play, firing just eight shots on goal against a shorthanded Pittsburgh squad.
“Tonight the breakout wasn’t very good, and that’s a timing issue,” noted Brendan Gallagher, who finished the game a plus-1 with three shots on goal. “With different options you’ve got to be able to react and come across in support in different situations, but we were just off tonight and didn’t do a very good job. With a penalty kill as aggressive as theirs it’s tough to get any possession time.”
While power play goals have indeed been rare for Montreal this season – the Canadiens are ranked 26th league-wide with just 11 – it hasn’t been due to a lack of trying, or desire, for that matter.
“Any time you’re on the power play, you’re always going out there with the intention to score a goal. We’re no different regardless of how poor it’s been for us this year. We’re off right now and I think the biggest thing is timing. We weren’t coming up as a unit tonight. It’s something we’ve worked on, but it’s going to take more work,” prescribed Gallagher, who has yet to see his name on the special teams scoresheet this season. “It’s never easy to fix a problem but we’ll go back to the drawing board and come back with a solution.”
At one point owning a four-to-one power play advantage early in the third, indiscipline was also costly for the Canadiens – much like it was on Tuesday against Tampa Bay – taking three consecutive penalties to end the game, while notably getting caught with too many men on the ice in the extra frame.
“They have so much skill over there and we gave them too many chances, especially at the end,” acknowledged Pacioretty, whose lone first period marker was his 18th of the season. “With a 5-on-3 in the third and a 4-on-3 in overtime, you know they’re going to capitalize. It seems like maybe a bit of the same story when it comes to discipline, but at the end of the day we definitely battled for 63 minutes. Now we’ve just got to find a way to close games.”
Like his linemate Gallagher, the Canadiens’ top scorer intends to find that way sooner rather than later.
“It’s definitely frustrating but it does us no good to sit back and sulk about it,” agreed the 26-year-old forward. “We’ve just got to find a way to bear down and get answers and I think the only way to do that is by working hard.”
Steven Nechay is a writer for canadiens.com