MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens didn’t need a lethal power play to run up a six-game winning streak, so winger Brian Gionta figures a dormant one can’t explain the team’s current two-game slide.
The Habs went 0-for-5 with the man advantage in a listless 2-0 loss at home to the Ottawa Senators on Monday and squandered a chance to claim sole possession of fifth in the Eastern Conference standings for the second time in three nights.
Montreal also had a 1-for-6 performance against the league’s worst penalty killing team in Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss in Toronto, but Gionta says the last two defeats can’t just be blamed on the Canadiens’ man-advantage woes.
“That’s part of it for sure, your special teams can win you games and we’re not doing that right now,” said Gionta, who scored both goals in Toronto and again was Montreal’s best player Monday. “But I think overall our (puck) support’s not there and that carries over to the power play.
“Coming up the ice we’re not supporting the puck carrier, we’re not getting available for him, and we’re not doing a good job without the puck.”
The game was billed as a battle for fifth place, and the Senators looked ripe for the picking coming off five straight losses. But right from the start, the Canadiens seemed disorganized and uninterested.
As a result, Montreal remains seventh in the conference, four points ahead of the ninth-place Atlanta Thrashers, with one game in hand.
“We lost every battle, they wanted it more than us,” said Canadiens defenceman Andrei Markov. “We didn’t play our game, especially in the first period. We made a few turnovers in the neutral zone and on the blue-lines. We can’t play these games like that.”
When the Canadiens reeled off six straight wins earlier this month, the power play was only 3-for-20. The difference was the team held a decided edge in even-strength play, which hasn’t been the case the last two games.
“I don’t think we put out best effort in,” Gionta said. “If we played better and we lost that’s one thing, but we definitely didn’t put up a fight.”
While the Canadiens 5-on-5 play has dipped over the past two games, some help for the power play could be on its way. Leading goal-scorer Michael Cammalleri and power-play specialist Marc-Andre Bergeron – both out with knee injuries – could be cleared to play in time for Wednesday’s game in Buffalo.
Both Cammalleri and Bergeron will be seen by team doctors Tuesday morning prior to the Canadiens practice in the hopes they will be given the green light. But Markov said the pair will not magically repair the power play, which has three goals in its last 25 opportunities.
“No question they are good players, but it doesn’t matter who plays on the power play,” Markov said. “We have to realize it is a huge opportunity to score. We just can’t play like that.”
Despite the two defeats, the Canadiens are still one of the hottest teams in the league, with 15 of a possible 20 points since the Olympic break.
“That board is still tight,” Gionta said of the standings. “We put ourselves in a good position after the break, but we have to make sure closing out these last nine games that we put as good an effort in as we did coming off that break.”