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Montreal inserts Darche as power-play solution

by Arpon Basu
BROSSARD, Que. -- Mathieu Darche will be going from the press box straight to the No. 1 power-play unit when the Montreal Canadiens host the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.

Darche was a healthy scratch the past two games – a 2-0 win against Toronto and Monday's 3-2 loss in Philadelphia – but he is being looked upon to help revive a power play that has gone dormant.

The Canadiens power play started the season on a 3-for-47 slide before righting itself with a 8-for-23 run during a four-game winning streak. But, it is just 1-for-9 as Montreal has lost two of its past three games.

That one goal came after Toronto defenseman Mike Komisarek made a tape-to-tape pass right on the stick of Canadiens sniper Michael Cammalleri in front, something you can't particularly count on happening every game.

Darche was practicing alongside Cammalleri and Scott Gomez on the power play Wednesday morning, with P.K. Subban and Roman Hamrlik on the blue line on what could be considered Montreal's top unit.

"I don't think you can undervalue net presence on the power play," Cammalleri said. "You look at Detroit and they've had a great power play for years because they have a guy in Tomas Holmstrom who gives them that great net presence,” Cammalleri said. "When you have net presence, every shot becomes dangerous. Darche is a guy that's willing to get there and play that role."

Not only is he willing, Darche is able and eager to be that guy who takes abuse in an effort to distract the opposing goaltender.

"It's a role I love," he said. "In the minors, I was an offensive guy and that's how I got a lot of my goals, by going in front and tipping pucks or scoring on rebounds. The biggest thing about playing the role is you can't be afraid of the puck."

The second power-play unit for Montreal will have Tomas Plekanec at center with Andrei Kostitsyn and Brian Gionta on the wings and Alexandre Picard and Jaroslav Spacek on the points. The two-game experiment with rookie Yannick Weber on the point appears to be finished, for now.

Coach Jacques Martin doesn't like pinning labels on his two units, preferring instead to have them competing for that No. 1 job the way it was last season when Montreal finished with the League's second-ranked power play.

It makes sense, seeing as neither one is producing right now.

"I don't think we have a first power-play unit, first of all," Martin said. "When you look at last year, one of the reasons we were successful was that we had two units that competed with each other."

The Canadiens power play will be in tough against the Kings, who are ranked No. 6 in the NHL on the penalty kill. However, in one of the odder statistics you'll see, the Kings are perfect on 35 chances at home this season yet have allowed 11 power play goals on 49 chances on the road, a 77.6 per cent efficiency rate that has them ranked No. 20 for road penalty killing.

The Kings power play has been just as erratic as the Canadiens, connecting on only one of 15 chances during the past three games, while Montreal's penalty kill is tops in the League at 90.8 percent.

Carey Price will make his start No. 21 of the season in goal for the Canadiens against Kings rookie Jonathan Bernier, a native of nearby Laval, Que.

Price said after practice Tuesday the last time he played this often was in junior with the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League.

"There's a lot more travel involved in junior, with long bus rides, so it's probably worse," Price said.

Can he keep up this pace all season?

"I guess we'll find out," he said.
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