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Montreal hopes season-opening win shows PP still alive and well without Souray

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TORONTO - Mark Streit probably hasn't been picked in many hockey pools but he may be on his way to showing why that was an oversight.

The 29-year-old Swiss blue-liner played the right point on Montreal's top power-play unit in Wednesday night's season-opening win at Carolina, filling the spot vacated by Sheldon Souray after he signed with the Edmonton Oilers this summer.

So far, so good. Streit scored on a powerful blast and the Habs power play picked up where it left off last season as the NHL's No. 1-ranked unit, scoring three times against the Hurricanes in a 3-2 overtime win.

"I've been a point guy in other leagues and in world championships and Olympics," Streit said Thursday after practice. "So I don't put any pressure on myself now."

The Habs are in Toronto preparing for Saturday's game with the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre (7 p.m. ET).

One game out of 82 doesn't answer whether the Canadiens will ultimately be able to survive Souray's loss. He was second in the NHL with 19 power-play goals last season, leaving what seems like a gaping hole on Montreal's power play.

But star forward Alexei Kovalev, another member of the top unit, says Streit can do the job despite not having the same rocket fuel on his shot compared to Souray.

"If Mark Streit hits the net 99 per cent of the time with a weaker shot, I'm sure you're going to score on 50 or 40 per cent of it," argued Kovalev.

"So there's pluses and minuses either way. But a hard shot is not always the most important on the power play. It's all about how you're hitting the net."

With Souray gone, the Habs coaching staff has been preaching shoot, shoot, shoot to the rest of the unit, which also includes Saku Koivu, Chris Higgins and sometimes Micheal Ryder up front and the talented Andrei Markov on the left point.

"Obviously Sheldon was a pure shooter," said assistant coach Doug Jarvis, who helps oversee the power play. "We don't want the philosophy to change. We want the people who fill in to that spot to continue to think shot. ...

"We're continuing to stress and work off the philosophy of being a shooting power play. And not just from the point but also some other areas. The philosophy is there to shoot and then we'll make things happen off of that."

Streit has a decent shot, he just hasn't had that much of a chance to show it in the NHL. He was largely on Montreal's second power-play unit last season, which didn't get nearly as much ice time. Now the Habs are giving him a chance.

"He can shoot the puck," said Jarvis. "That's an asset that he has. We've been working with him and telling him, 'When the puck comes across, we need you to shoot it."'

Streit comes at a bargain price of US$600,000 this season, although he'll be an unrestricted free agent at year's end.

He has proved a valuable piece for the Canadiens, filling in on forward last year for a number of games when the Habs were hit by injuries. He played so well, in fact, that some observers were surprised to see him back on defence at training camp.

He finished with 10 goals and 26 assists in 76 games while moving back and forth last season. He insists he doesn't mind.

"Playing either position gives me more of a chance to play which for me is an advantage," said Streit, Montreal's ninth-round choice, 262nd overall, in the 2004 NHL entry draft.

Even playing the right point on the power play is different since he usually plays the left side as a left-handed defenceman. No biggie, he says.

"On the right side, I'm open for a one-timer," said Streit. "So it's not a big change or a big adjustment. I feel just as good on the right side."

Perhaps he'll be a sleeper pick with all the extra power-play time, but Streit blushed when asked whether he told his friends in Switzerland to choose him in their hockey pools.

"No I didn't," he said quickly. "I don't think too much about being on the first power play. I have to earn my spot. I have to show it every day and every practice. So I'm not about to send a message to all of Europe."

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