Habs, Avs aim to correct miscues ahead of matchup

December 19, 2018

Two teams coming off disappointing losses meet Wednesday, and both are trying to figure things out on special teams.

The Montreal Canadiens can't seem to score on the power play and suddenly the Colorado Avalanche are struggling to consistently kill penalties. Something has to give when the teams play at Pepsi Center in Denver on Wednesday night.

Montreal (17-12-5) lost to Boston 4-0 on Monday night in a game right winger Brendan Gallagher called "one of the worst of my career" afterward. The Canadiens had won six of their previous eight games, they were rested but were outshot 35-22 by a Bruins team playing the second of back-to-back games.

Every team has off nights but Montreal has had a season-long struggle of scoring with the man advantage. The Canadiens haven't had a power-play goal in their last 25 chances and have only scored 14 all season.

"It's just the little things," Gallagher told Sportsnet after Monday's loss. "We have to win puck battles. It's not a strategic problem. It's just work ethic, compete. We have to find a way to get the puck. We didn't have enough control of the puck in the zone to put into practice anything that we've worked on or talked about. It's as simple as that. It's not strategic."

Colorado's issues might be more strategic than anything. The Avalanche were one of the top penalty-killing teams in the first two months but have struggled lately. They have allowed at least one power-play goal in six of the last seven games, including two to the New York Islanders on Monday.

Colorado (18-10-6) has gone 1-3-1 in its last five games and has allowed seven power-play goals in that stretch.

"It looks to me like we're just not as quick as we were earlier," Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar said after Monday's loss. "We had some problems with clears for a while but that wasn't a problem tonight. They score on a flank shot. We're not blocking enough shots; we're not in the shooting lanes enough. That's two of the last three that have come from the flank on one-timers. We're taking too many penalties, too."

Coaches claim the goaltender is the team's best penalty killer and the Avalanche haven't gotten that from No. 1 stopper Semyon Varlamov. He has allowed 21 goals in his last five starts and was pulled from two of those games.

His goals-against average over the last five games is 5.32, but he won't get the chance to improve on that Wednesday. Philipp Grubauer will start in net against Montreal.

Colorado is also expected to get back forward Alexander Kerfoot after a four-game absence with an upper-body injury.

"It looks like he should be good to play," Bednar told hockeybuzz.com after Tuesday's practice. "I just have to get confirmation (from the medical staff) that he's in for sure."

The Canadiens made a roster move ahead of their six-game road trip with the recall of 20-year-old defenseman Victor Mete. Mete played 23 games before being sent to the AHL to build his confidence after some struggles.

Montreal sent Noah Juulsen down to make room for Mete.