MONTREAL – Montreal Canadiens fans attending the NHL all-star weekend festivities are getting a glimpse of their team’s past power-play glory.
Edmonton Oilers defenceman Sheldon Souray and Mark Streit of the New York Islanders each played big roles in making the Canadiens’ power-play unit the NHL’s best the past two years. But with both having left as free agents, Montreal’s efficiency with the man advantage has gone south.
Now they’re back here as all-stars. It’s an irony not lost upon Souray but he doesn’t feel it’s anything more than another quirky storyline this weekend.
“It’s not a sense of redemption, because it’s business,” said Souray, who leads the Oilers with seven power-play goals this season. “To be here, to play in this event in Montreal, it couldn’t be more ironic.
“But I wouldn’t read anything more into it than that.”
In 2006-’07, the Canadiens power play was built around Souray’s booming slapshot and clicked at a league-leading 22.8 per cent efficiency rate. After Souray signed with Edmonton, many assumed the Canadiens’ power play would suffer, but Streit slid into his spot last season and it actually improved to 24.1 per cent.
This season, the Canadiens’ power play has struggled at 16.1 per cent, leaving it ranked No. 24 in the 30-team NHL. Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau admitted earlier this year the team was missing Streit, perhaps more than it anticipated when the decision was made to let him test the free-agent waters.
Streit hadn’t heard of Carbonneau’s comments until this weekend and admitted it was flattering.
“It’s nice, it gives a bit of credit to me that I did well and they were happy with my services here,” said Streit, who leads the Islanders with seven power-play goals. “It obviously makes you a little proud.”
However, Streit is not so proud that he’s willing to take credit for being the lone catalyst to last season’s power-play success in Montreal.
“Last year everything was perfect,” he said. “The guys on the power play just fit together, everybody was a passer and a shooter, it just worked out.
“The chemistry was unbelievable. But they still have a lot of great players with a lot of skill, enough skill to have a really successful power play. I can’t say I’m the reason why it doesn’t work anymore.”
When Souray skated out to practise Saturday with his fellow Western Conference all-stars, the crowd of 20,000 at the Bell Centre gave him the loudest ovation. It was a rare change of form for the Montreal faithful, who have a tendency to boo former Canadiens when they return.
“Just coming back here is a big honour, to be part of this event in this city, so to get a reception like that was pretty awesome,” Souray said. “It was just nice not to hear any boos.”
Souray and Streit aren’t the only former Habs defencemen returning here. Stephane Robidas of the Dallas Stars is also on the Western Conference squad.
Robidas left Montreal in 2002 when placed on waivers and claimed by the Stars, His return as one of the league’s top players is a special feeling for him as well.
“If you look at the situation I was in, I was put on waivers by Montreal and I was battling to stay in the NHL at that time,” Robidas said. “It’s been a long road.”