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Habs feel fixing PP could help restore confidence

by Arpon Basu
BROSSARD, Que. -- The Montreal Canadiens would do well to shut the blinds, turn off the radio and not even think of turning on a television or going anywhere near a computer.

With their city in a frothy panic over the team's worst start to a season in 16 years, the Canadiens' struggles have taken a front row seat in the hearts and minds of Montreal's residents.

And it's only October.

But while the Canadiens understand why their fans feel this way about their 1-4-1 record, they have an even better understanding of why it is important to shut that constant chatter out of their minds.

Tomas Plekanec
Center - MTL
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 4
SOG: 24 | +/-: -2
"As a group inside this locker room, we know the fans are going to be hard on us, and they should be," defenseman Hal Gill said Friday after practice. "This is a passionate city; we expect them to be passionate when we win, so they should be when we lose. That being said, we can't be down on ourselves, we can't mope around saying how awful we are. We have to pull ourselves up, and it's going to come from this room."

Though each of the Canadiens' losses have come in a different fashion -- some undisciplined play here, some listless play there -- captain Brian Gionta feels it all has an underlying theme.

"It's all a matter of mentally being prepared and executing our game plan the way we want it to be," Gionta said. "It all falls under the same umbrella."

The Canadiens are a team that relies on a system that preaches strong puck support up and down the ice. While they showed excellent signs of doing just that in a heart-breaking 2-1 loss at home to Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday, there was zero evidence of it in a 3-1 loss to the banged-up Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday.

"We talk about it every day, to work as a group," center Tomas Plekanec said. "We need to help ourselves. Just talking about it won't be a solution, not here with you guys (the media), not in meetings, not in video -- you've got to do it on the ice."


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With that in mind, the Canadiens went about trying to fix what is ailing them at practice Friday, spending a lot of time working on what coach Jacques Martin pointed at as the undisputed No. 1 reason for this difficult start to the season.

"There is definitely one, and it's special teams," Martin said. "Our practice today focused on that. Our work on the penalty kill has been good at times, but there's no doubt having a power play that can score a goal could have made a difference in a few games."

Since Martin took over as Canadiens coach prior to the 2009-10 season, his team has finished second and seventh in the NHL power-play rankings. But after a 2-for-25 start through six games, the Canadiens were sitting a distant 25th on the power play entering Friday night's games.

Plekanec, who is playing the point opposite P.K. Subban on the team's first power-play unit while Andrei Markov continues his recovery from knee surgery in Florida, says the most important thing for the Canadiens to remember is to keep things simple.

"We've talked about it for the last few weeks, then we do it for one power play and all of a sudden we stop," Plekanec said. "We start trying to make cute plays, we don't support each other, we lose a battle and here we go again, we have to go for a breakout."

The Canadiens would appear to have a perfect opponent coming to town Saturday night in the Toronto Maple Leafs, not because they are not playing well, but because they have the 26th-ranked penalty kill in the League and have struggled in that area in recent years.

Just one goal with the man advantage could help re-establish the confidence of the power play, which in turn could have a similarly positive effect on the rest of the team.

But as Gill explained, confidence can be a real catch-22 when a team is reeling the way the Canadiens are now.

"God, I hate confidence, because you need confidence to win and you get confidence when you start winning," Gill said. "It's more about trust in your teammates and playing as a team than confidence. With that, you get confidence as a team together. That's what we need."

A city lacking that same confidence in its beloved team needs it, too.
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