After finishing tops in the League in power-play efficiency during the regular season, the Montreal Canadiens
have surprisingly struggled with the man advantage this postseason.
There were signs of life, however, in Game 2 of Montreal's Eastern Conference semifinal round game Saturday when the Canadiens went 1-for-4 and generated nine shots against white-hot Flyers goalie Martin Biron
. To a man, the Canadiens realize their prolific power play must improve in order to make the Flyers pay for any careless penalties, particularly in Philadelphia, where the series shifts for Games 3 (tonight, 7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS) and 4, Wednesday. There's no question this intense series, currently even at 1-1, has taken on a physical life of its own.
"The power play is definitely important, but at the same time, we also need to focus more on our 5-on-5 game," Canadiens wing Alex Kovalev
said. "You can't sit around and wait for the power play, but when it comes, we know we have to be a little bit better. First and foremost, it's important to establish possession in their zone. Second, we must set up properly and, third, it's critical that we take a good look around and show patience to get off a good chance."
There's no denying the fact that as Kovalev goes, so too does the Montreal power play. In fact, Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau
dedicated half the ice during this morning's early skate at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia to working the puck with the man advantage. Montreal associate coach Doug Jarvis
was barking commands throughout to Christopher Higgins
in the high slot, Saku Koivu
below the goal line and Kovalev in his usual area along the half-boards. At the left point was Andrei Markov
and to his right was Mark Streit
Kovalev recorded 47 of his 84 regular-season points on the power play. In the playoffs, he has four of his team-high nine points with the man advantage. The Canadiens had the top-ranked power play in the NHL during the regular season, hitting 24.1 percent of the time. Five players had 10 or more goals, including Kovalev (17 goals), Higgins (12), Markov (10), Tomas Plekanec
(12) and Andrei Kostitsyn
(12). The Canadiens have scored two power-play goals on six chances against the Flyers and currently rank 13th in the playoffs with a 12.8 percent efficiency. Conversely, the Flyers are third in the League this playoff season with the man advantage, scoring 25 percent of the time.
"Obviously, the power play hasn't worked as well in the playoffs as it did in the regular season but I think (in Game 2) it was back to the way we have expected," Streit said. "We moved the puck well and took a lot of shots. We had people in front of the net and, overall, it just looked better. We appeared much more energized and that's how we need to play tonight with the man advantage as well."
One reason for the Canadiens' struggles against the Flyers might be the fact Biron has performed so well, particularly in Game 2 – a 4-2 Flyers victory – when he made 34 saves while not allowing many rebounds.
"We can't worry about the goalie too much," Kovalev said. "We just have to focus on our game. I've played in enough playoff games where I've seen a goalie really good and stopping everything or not stopping anything at all. It was just one game and we move on. We must just focus on our chances."
Carbonneau, who will replace wing Mathieu Dandenault
in the lineup with Guillaume Latendresse
for tonight's Game 3, agrees with Kovalev.
"It's just a matter of going out and trying to play better," Carbonneau said. "They took advantage of the chances they had and you have to give them credit for that. We know we have to play better and try to be a little bigger and better prepared at the start of the game. If we open the game like we played the second half (of Game 2), I feel we'll be alright. Overall, I thought we played well since we didn't give them much, but the bottom line is they converted on their chances and we didn't."
The Flyers jumped to a 2-0 first-period lead in each of the two games in Montreal, a trend Kovalev knows must be reversed.
"It's just a matter of limiting their chances and making sure the don't get many opportunities," he said. "They had a few good shots and some good goals but if we play smart, we can stop that. Sometimes, when you play at home, you might not be as focused on what's going on around you. We've been pretty successful on the road and we just have to continue that."
The Canadiens finished the 2007-08 season with the League's second-best road record at 25-12-4, which was their highest road victory total since winning 27 in 1977-78.
Latendresse will play on Montreal's third line with center Bryan Smolinski
and wing Tom Kostopoulos
. Steve Begin
, who flanked Smolinksi during Montreal's seven-game series victory against Boston in the opening round, will be moved with center Maxim Lapierre
. Carbonneau wouldn't commit to the wing opposite Begin and admitted he would "see how things go."
"Guillaume has good hands around the net and there were some chances in that last game where he probably would have been very effective," Carbonneau said. "Maybe he'll be able to help us out in that department playing with Smolinski and Kostopoulos."
It also doesn't hurt that Latendresse stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 222 pounds. His presence on the ice will certainly attract some attention and, perhaps, open some space for his linemates.
"I'm just trying to change the dynamics of the third line, along with the fourth line," Carbonneau said. "I thought those two units were struggling a bit in the opening two games and, since we're in Philadelphia now, I don't have the luxury of matching lines on the road. It's important for me to put four good lines together."