There is a long list of things the Canadiens front office is going to have to deal with when the team’s season ends on the seventh of April. The power play is not one of them. As a matter of face the Canadiens power play is one of the few areas that has improved as the season has gone along.
Twenty-two games into the season the Canadiens play with the man advantage looked like the same-old. It was ranked 29th in the league at 15.2%. It was then that Claude Julien and assistant Kirk Muller made some adjustments. Since then, there can be no complaints. In the 30 games since November 22nd the Canadiens power play has produced at 25.9%; 14 goals in 54 opportunities. The three power play goals were the key to the Canadiens 5-2 win over a usually good Anaheim Ducks team at the Bell Centre Saturday afternoon.
The Canadiens were in a bind when they claimed the struggling Antti Niemi off the waiver wire in mid-November. Both Carey Price and Al Montoya were out with injuries. Rookie Charlie Lindgren was carrying the goaltending load. At the same time Niemi was seeing his career fade into oblivion with first Pittsburgh and Florida this season. Niemi arrived. Goaltender coaching guru Stephane Waite took over and the result was a rock solid performance against the Ducks. The Canadiens gave up the first nine shots on goal. Niemi stopped them all. He had to deal with a 20-shot barrage in the second period and then closed it out in the third period. End count – 43 saves, 27 scoring chance 9 of which were considered high danger scoring opportunities.
Four of the five goals were scored by members of the Canadiens defense. That is a good thing. Jeff Petry earned the game’s second star for two of the goals and another one of those Larry Robinson-like offensive games. Both of this goals came on the power play. The first was a bit fluky but it was the result of a pinch that put him front of the net in the first place. The second was a pinpoint shot, top corner short side.
Joe Morrow and David Schlemko scored the others. They seemed to have a good first period but reverted to form especially in the second period.
With nothing but pride left to play for, it’s time to assess the future of the Canadiens. To that end, Nikita Scherbak was recalled on Friday. Claude Julien didn’t follow his usual pattern of placing his rookie forward on a fourth line where chances of success are minimal. Scherbak started the game on the top line with Jonathan Drouin and Alex Galchenyuk and finished with Paul Byron and Max Pacioretty. I thought he did some good things in his 10:41 of ice time. He was on the power play and drew an assist on the Morrow goal. He’s certainly worth a longer look against Ottawa Sunday afternoon.
FROM THE CLINIC
Jonathan Drouin left the game after being hit in the ribs by a Karl Alzner slap shot and did not return. It was a perfect opportunity to give Alex Galchenyuk another shot at centre ice but Claude Julien continued to stick with the programme which does not include moving him from left wing. Galchenyuk had two assists in the game and is starting to show some playmaking skills that were earlier undeveloped.
As for Drouin, Julien said after the game that there are no rib fractures and he’ll be re-evaluated tomorrow.
…..Another frustrating game for Artturi Lehkonen which included just one shot on goal. No goals and just one assist since oct 30th and 24 games.
….Charles Hudon led the Canadiens with six shots on goal. Galchenyuk had five. Once again Nicolas Deslauriers led with four hits. The Canadiens were at 43% in faceoffs. Plekanec swon 7 of 11.
One of the few teams who are having a worse season than the Canadiens are at the Bell Centre Sunday afternoon. Ottawa frittered away a two goal lead in the third period Saturday afternoon against Philadelphia but then won in overtime. After tomorrow’s game the Canadiens get three days off before a game in Philadelphia on Thursday.