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Canadiens lacking offensive production from top players

Need Max Pacioretty, Shea Weber to step up in order to avoid elimination by Rangers in Game 6 on Saturday

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- The day between games late in a Stanley Cup Playoff series can sometimes become the day for mind games. Montreal Canadiens coach Claude Julien was up for the challenge Friday, the day before his team tries to avoid elimination.

Julien was asked about a series from 2014, when his former team, the Boston Bruins, were up 3-2 on the Canadiens going into Game 6. He turned his answer into a message for the present-day Canadiens as they prepare for Game 6 against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports). 

The Rangers lead the best-of-7 series 3-2.

"The toughest thing to do is to close," Julien said. "The pressure is on them. They need to close [Saturday]. OK. We need to create a Game 7 by playing well in Game 6. That's how you have to look at it. We need to focus on our job here. We've got a pretty good road record (23-14-4 during the regular season), I don't think their home record (21-16-4) is the best so I would have to say the pressure is on them."

 

[RELATED: Complete Canadiens vs. Rangers series coverage]

 

Maybe so, but the Canadiens, who won 3-1 in Game 3 at the Garden, will need more than they've gotten from their top players to stop the Rangers from closing.

"There's certain players we all know can give us a little bit more," Julien said.

He didn't name names. He didn't have to.

Start with Max Pacioretty, the Canadiens' captain and leading scorer in the regular season with 67 points (35 goals, 32 assists). He has no goals despite a team-high 24 shots on goal in the series.

Want to know why the Canadiens are facing elimination in a series that has featured each team winning in overtime, has been physical, tight checking and low scoring? Pacioretty's lack of production is a fair and reasonable place to kick off the investigation.

"Max had a breakaway [in Game 5], so it's not from lack of having opportunities," Julien said. "At some point in the playoffs you realize that some of your top guns are going to be checked a little closer. We talked about [Connor] McDavid, who is a young player. There's also [Vladimir] Tarasenko in St. Louis. Max is not the only guy who hasn't scored yet, but if he's getting chances that means he's doing something well."

Fair point, but McDavid's Edmonton Oilers are up 3-2 against the San Jose Sharks and Tarasenko's St. Louis Blues are up 3-1 against the Minnesota Wild in their first-round series. McDavid has three points. Tarasenko has two. Pacioretty has one.

But we digress, because we can't in good conscience make Pacioretty the lone suspect in the investigation of Montreal's missing top offensive performers, not when forward Alex Galchenyuk so very clearly belongs on the list.

Montreal's third leading scorer in the regular season with 44 points (17 goals, 27 assists), Galchenyuk has one assist in the past two games and three shots on goal in the past three games. He had nine shots on goal in the first two games, when he was trying to work his way off of the fourth line.

"He's one of those guys that sometimes you may not see much but then takes one shot that turns things around," Julien said. "There's no doubt I think he's capable of more."

While we know Alexander Radulov was the most impressive Canadiens' forward through the first three games of the series and even had some terrific moments in Game 4, he too has tailed off. He was held scoreless in Game 5 and has one shot on goal in the past two games.

At least Radulov has six points (two goals, four assists) in the series, including the overtime winner in Game 2 and three points in Game 3. Montreal might be eliminated already if not for him.

But forward Paul Byron, who was second on Montreal with 22 goals in the regular season, had one shot on goal in 30 shifts in Game 5 and zero in 20 shifts in Game 4.

Shea Weber has no shots on goal in the past two games after having 11 in the first three games. Toss in Andrei Markov and the Canadiens' top two defensemen have two shots on goal on 13 total shot attempts despite playing a combined 109:41 during 134 shifts in the past two games.

"Just a little bit better," Weber said. "Everyone has just got to step it up a little bit more, give a little bit more."

But now for the good news: It doesn't look like Montreal will need all of these players to get going to extend the series Saturday and eventually win it in Game 7. It might take only one of them to turn it on, because it's not as if the Rangers are a barnstorming offensive juggernaut now.

Each team has 10 goals in the series if you don't count Michael Grabner's empty-net goal in Game 1.

With Carey Price in Montreal's net it's unreasonable to think the Rangers will all of a sudden roll up four or five goals in Game 6 and run away with a win. The Canadiens know that. That's why, as Julien said, they just need a little bit more from certain players.

The pressure is on them too.

"We're not going to hide," Weber said. "Obviously it's an elimination game and I think it's going to bring out the best in everybody."

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