The Montreal Canadiens have been searching for a spark on the power play since the season began.
Currently 28th in the league at 11.8 percent, the team hopes it has found the match to get the fire going in Tomas Kaberle, who was acquired Friday from the Carolina Hurricanes for Jaroslav Spacek. In his debut with the team on Saturday, Kaberle picked up assists on two Canadiens goals. The first came with the man advantage and the second came shortly after one had expired.
Kaberle is expected to help out with the Habs’ Andrei Markov out with a knee injury.
"We need a better power play, and with the absence of Mr. Markov, Mr. Kaberle can help us," Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier told reporters at the airport before the team left for Saturday’s game in New Jersey. "Then hopefully Markov will be back soon and they will both be together to help the power play."
The Canadiens had managed only one goal on 36 opportunities spread over nine games before facing the Devils. That dry spell followed a stretch of four games with at least one power-play score — the only time this season they’ve converted in consecutive games.
Montreal appeared on the verge of welcoming Markov back to the lineup after nearly a year away rehabilitating from knee surgery. Then a visit with the doctor last week found some debris in the area, requiring arthroscopic surgery to clean it out. He underwent the minor procedure Monday, with the team putting his recovery at an estimated four to six weeks.
So, they turned to Kaberle, much to the dismay of fans and media.
Kaberle, 33, had been struggling in Carolina after signing a three-year, $12.75 million deal over the summer. The move came after an uneventful stint with the Boston Bruins from the trade deadline in February through their Stanley Cup run. The pressure is on with the Canadiens so desperate for help on the power play that they took on his contract, but that doesn’t bother Kaberle.
"I like the challenge," he told reporters before his Habs debut Saturday. "I played in Toronto for so many years and I think it’s the same pressure. Everybody wants to be in the playoffs, and that’s what you play for. You want to win the Stanley Cup at the end of the day and the first step is to make it to the playoffs.
"It would be nice to make it again. We know we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us and it’s a team game, at the same time."
Kaberle finds a few familiar faces in the Canadiens’ locker room. He’s played with Tomas Plekanec on the Czech national team and spends his summers training with the Habs center. He also knows assistant coach Randy Ladouceur and fellow blue-liner Hal Gill from their time together in Toronto.
"He’s a guy who moves the puck really well; he’s pretty smooth out there," Gill said. "He’s a guy that, in Toronto, logged a lot of minutes and played really well for us when we were there so I’m excited to have him."
The power play has been the Canadiens’ biggest black eye this season. They’ve struggled in their entries into the zone and have sorely missed Markov’s quarterbacking skills on the blue line.
"We just need to make a few tweaks," Gill said of the team’s struggles. "And for Kabby, I think he comes in and plays his game and he’s going to help us, and that’s a big boost for us."
Nikita Filatov’s time in the NHL appears to be on thin ice. Called up in late November by the Senators, Filatov has suited up for just three games, none since Dec. 1, despite the Sens going 1-3-2 in their past six games. . . . The Maple Leafs welcomed goaltender James Reimer back to the lineup last week but have struggled to win since his return. Toronto has just one win in its past five games, albeit a pretty big one, beating the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. . . . The Boston Bruins went the entire month of November without a loss in regulation and extended their point streak with a pair of wins to start December. The Winnipeg Jets snapped the incredible run on Tuesday and then the Florida Panthers gave the Bruins their first set of back-to-back regulation losses since falling to the Canadiens on Oct. 27 and Oct. 29.