Habs hope fresh start revives Kaberle, their power play
NEWARK, N.J. -- Calling it an exciting new challenge for him, new Canadiens defenseman Tomas Kaberle figures he knows exactly what he's up against in Montreal.
After all, the Habs are Kaberle's third Original Six team, and his second in Canada.
"It's a Canadian city and everybody loves hockey," Kaberle said Saturday morning, roughly 90 minutes before he made his Habs debut a success with two assists in a 2-1 win against the New Jersey Devils. "At the same time, there's going to be lots of pressure on me. But, I like the challenge and hopefully it's going to be good."
The pressure is definitely on as Kaberle comes to the Habs amid questions about the direction of his career path.
""It's always tough to hear stuff like that. I don't really control what is going on on the outside. I don't really read papers and stuff like that, but I felt my game was a lot better the last few games." --Tomas Kaberle on Carolina GM Jim Rutherford’s post-trade comments
He was an All-Star in Toronto, where he stayed for 11 1/2 seasons before being dealt to Boston last season because the Bruins needed a jolt for their struggling power play. Although the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, Kaberle did not provide any assistance on the power play and he faced criticism from general manager Peter Chiarelli, who told a Boston radio station that he "expected better" from the rearguard.
As a result, the Bruins opted not to sign Kaberle in the offseason, letting him become an unrestricted free agent. He eventually signed a three-year, $12.75 million contract with Carolina a week into free agency. The Hurricanes thought they were getting a low-maintenance puck-moving defenseman who would help their power play and be accountable in the defensive end as well.
On Friday, after 29 mostly disappointing games with Carolina, he was traded for Jaroslav Spacek. Kaberle had no goals, nine assists and a minus-12 rating with the Hurricanes, who are last in the Eastern Conference with 22 points and 25th in the NHL in power-play efficiency (13.1 percent).
Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford said Friday that he regretted his decision to sign Kaberle, telling the Raleigh News & Observer, "I should have known better."
"It's always tough to hear stuff like that," Kaberle said in response to a question about Rutherford's comments. "I don't really control what is going on on the outside. I don't really read papers and stuff like that, but I felt my game was a lot better the last few games."
Kaberle, though, admitted Saturday that he came into training camp overweight, another claim made by Rutherford on Friday. He blamed the shorter summer because of the Bruins' Stanley Cup celebration, but said he has rectified that problem over the past month and is feeling good now.
"At the start I was a little bit heavier, I lost some weight and I feel a lot better," Kaberle said. "I feel more comfortable the last month or so."
Kaberle's recent stats back up that claim. He had two assists in each of his final two games as a Hurricane, and added two more in his first game with the Canadiens.
He had an immediate impact on the Canadiens' power play by helping set up Max Pacioretty's goal 1:07 into the second period with a clean entry and crisp pass to Erik Cole, who tipped the puck over to Pacioretty for a one-time blast from above the left hash marks.
"People always say on a power play it's so important to move it around the zone, but I think the most important is the breakout and entry into the zone," Pacioretty said. "Kabs made a great play, drew two guys to him and it set up Colsie and me to have a little bit of a rush. Colsie faked the shot and that gave me a lot of time and space."
With Kaberle at the point, the Canadiens' power play also moved the puck around well for 90 straight seconds at the end of the first period.
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It was a sudden and positive change to a power play that looked stale and stagnant, and was just 1-for-36 in the previous nine games.
"The guys were moving it around well. Obviously Kabby makes a pretty big difference," Montreal goalie Carey Price said. "On that first goal there, he's moving the puck well and everybody else sees that, and you could see the passing was crisp. It makes a big difference because it gets their guys moving around."
The Canadiens thought they already had the guy that would help them move the puck like that on the power play, but Andrei Markov's knee problems have become so severe that he needed to have another surgery earlier this week and might not play until after the All-Star break.
Knowing that, and the fact that the power play was keeping the Canadiens from winning close games -- they've lost five times in the shootout, twice more in overtime, and three more times in regulation by a single goal -- Habs GM Pierre Gauthier felt he had to go out and acquire a veteran power-play guy like Kaberle.
It didn't take long for Montreal coach Jacques Martin to see why. Now the Canadiens are hopeful they'll see more of the same from Kaberle and their power play in the days, weeks, months and, yes, years to come.
"It's not always all about the power play, but they know I'm an offensive guy and I can help on the PP if I am going to play my game," Kaberle said. "I'm going to focus on that every day. Hopefully I can fit in well with these guys."