The Montreal Canadiens may be among the best teams in the NHL this season, but it’s certainly not due to their power play.
They’re hoping a 40-year-old can fix it.
Sergei Gonchar is slated to make his Canadiens debut on Thursday night when they try to match their longest winning streak of the season by beating the Boston Bruins again.
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Montreal’s 23 points trail only Anaheim, Vancouver and Tampa Bay, and getting its power play clicking should keep it among the NHL’s elite.
The Canadiens’ power play ranks 28th, converting just 3 of 42 chances, and one was an empty-netter by P.A. Parenteau in a 6-4 win over Boston on Oct. 16. P.K. Subban had Montreal’s last goal with the man advantage on Oct. 18, and the Habs are 0 for 22 since.
Carey Price overshadowed those struggles Tuesday, making 29 saves in a 3-0 win over Winnipeg for his first shutout of the season. Montreal (11-4-1) struck a deal prior to the victory to address the unit’s woes, acquiring Gonchar from Dallas in exchange for left wing Travis Moen.
"He’s a guy who has made a career out of his work on the power play," coach Michel Therrien told the team’s official website. "We’ll see how things play out, but he’s definitely a guy with a lot of experience who has always been known for his vision and quick thinking on the power play.
"We have to work as a unit of five. Communication is important."
Gonchar had one assist in three games with the Stars after returning from an ankle injury. However, 14 of his 22 points in 2013-14 came on the power play, and his 798 points rank 16th all-time among defensemen.
"The move shouldn’t surprise anyone because we’ve struggled a little bit on the power play," said defenseman Andrei Markov, Gonchar’s teammate on various Russia national teams. "He’s a great player for it. He’s a great player all around. Hopefully, he’s going to help us move forward with the power play, and move forward in everything else."
Price is practically doing it on his own, winning his last two starts while stopping 59 of 60 shots, increasing his save percentage from .907 to .918.
He had 25 saves against the Bruins (10-7-0) last month, beating the Original Six rival for the fifth time in six home meetings – including the playoffs – with a 1.49 goals-against average.
"I can’t score on him in practice, and it really hurts my self-esteem," defenseman Mike Weaver joked. "He’s there for every key save out there. He’s able to stop the best goal scorers out there."
The Bruins’ issues went beyond scoring in Wednesday’s 6-1 loss to Toronto that ended a season-high five-game winning streak.
"We just stunk the joint out," coach Claude Julien said. "We’ve got a game (Thursday night in Montreal). You certainly can’t cut down your bench when you play the next night, and even if I did, I don’t think I would’ve been able to put anybody out there that deserved to be out there."
That included Tuukka Rask, who was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 16 shots. It’s unclear if he’ll be back in net since he’s 3-11-3 with a 2.80 GAA in 18 career regular-season meetings with the Canadiens, surrendering five goals on 23 attempts before being lifted in the third period last month.
Carl Soderberg was held without a point Wednesday after getting six over the previous five games. The center, who is tied with Patrice Bergeron with a team-high 13 points, has a goal in each of his last two regular-season visits to Montreal.