MONTREAL — Brian Gionta is hopeful the Canadiens’ 2-1 overtime win over the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday night marks the start of another run like the 9-0-1 stretch that began in mid-November and continued into December.
“We need a run like that,” the captain said Monday as the Canadiens returned to work after a day off to savour the win over the defending Stanley Cup champions. “We’re in the position we’re in now because of that run. Take that away and we’re pretty much a .500 hockey team.”
The Canadiens are in third place in the Atlantic Division with a comfortable hold on a playoff spot and, on paper, their schedule this week lends itself to a successful run. They play three teams that are currently out of playoff contention, beginning with the New Jersey Devils Tuesday night at the Bell Centre (7:30 p.m., TSN-HABS, RDS, TSN Radio 690).
The Canadiens spend the rest of the week on the road, with games Thursday in Ottawa and Saturday in Toronto. The Canadiens are eight points ahead of the Maple Leafs in the standings and nine points up on the Senators and Devils, but the Canadiens can’t take anything for granted.
Montreal has beaten the Devils twice this season, but both games were decided by a single goal and their most recent meeting at the Bell Centre on Dec. 4 went to a shootout. Montreal native Martin Brodeur will be in nets for the Devils Tuesday and the NHL’s all-time leader in wins and shutouts always seem to save his best for the Canadiens.
The two games on the road feature divisional and geographic rivalries. The Senators have a 2-0 record against the Canadiens, including a 4-3 shootout win at the Bell Centre on Jan. 4, while the Leafs and Canadiens split their first two meetings.
One point of emphasis at Monday’s practice was the power play. The Canadiens currently rank 10th in the NHL with a success rate of 19 per cent. That’s not bad, but the Canadiens were scoring at a 25-per-cent clip earlier in the season and the power play has taken a nosedive. Over the past 10 games, the power play has had 36 opportunities and has scored only three goals. That’s a success rate of 8.3 per cent.
“We have meetings, we look at video, we work on the ice,” coach Michel Therrien said. ‘We need more movement and not just the puck. We have to have players moving and we have to be smart about when we take shots. You don’t have to score every time you have a power play, but it’s important to create momentum. We haven’t been doing that.”
The power play is important because the Canadiens have been outscored 77-75 in even-strength situations.
There are few concerns about the Canadiens’ penalty-killing, which ranks third in the league, or the overall defence, which ranks fourth.
Travis Moen has joined Gionta and Tomas Plekanec to form an effective shutdown line, although Therrien pointed out that the key to success is a coherent five-man unit and the Plekanec line is generally backed up by the defence pair of P.K. Subban and Josh Gorges.
Moen said the Chicago game was a vindication of the Canadiens’ defensive system. While the Canadiens had difficulty beating Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford, they had plenty of opportunities as they outshot the Blackhawks 38-20. Plekanec had 11 shots and his linemates added five more.
“It shows the offensive chances are there if we play well defensively,” Moen said. “I’ve always been comfortable with a checking role, and playing with those guys I just try to get them the puck and let them do their magic. You’ll get some points just being on the ice with them.”
With no extra forwards at his disposal, Therrien has only two decisions to make on his lineup. He confirmed that Carey Price will be in goal and the alignment at practice would indicate there will be no changes in the defence pairings. That means Francis Bouillon will be the healthy scratch against the Devils.
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