Canadiens have to get better on the power play — obviously

Much of Monday’s practice was devoted to the power play, with Arber Xhekaj getting point position on second unit.

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Some things in life — and sports — are just obvious.

Like the weather will start getting worse in October — even with climate change — and that the Canadiens need to fix their power play.

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Last season, the Canadiens ranked 29th in the NHL on the power play with a 16.1-per-cent success rate. That was actually an improvement from the previous season, when they ranked 31st at 13.7 per cent.

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If the Canadiens want to have any hope of making the playoffs this season — and those hopes are very slim at best in the second full season of a rebuild — they have to score more power-play goals.

Last season, the Canadiens scored 38 power-play goals. There were 12 teams that scored more than 60 power-play goals, 19 teams that scored at least 50 and the Edmonton Oilers led the way with 89. The Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl led the NHL with 32 power-play goals, followed by teammate Connor McDavid with 21.

Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield had seven power-play goals each to lead the Canadiens. There were 73 players in the NHL with more than seven power-play goals.

“More than anything, it’s just getting results,” Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis said after practice Monday in Brossard when asked about his team’s problems on the power play. “I think we’ve showed some really good glimpses of ‘this looks good’ and it’s the consistency of getting the chances.”

The Canadiens went 3-for-28 on the power play during their six pre-season games for an 11-per-cent success rate. They went 0-for-5 when they beat the Ottawa Senators 6-4 in their final pre-season game Saturday night.

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The Canadiens spent much of Monday’s practice working on the power play.

“I felt we had plenty (of chances) against Ottawa and for us it’s just to keep getting some reps and teaching a little bit of how to break the opponents and the way we’re designed on the power play, what’s our point of attack,” St. Louis said. “What’s the sequence of what we’re looking for to have a plan and we’re working on that.”

The first power-play unit at practice had Mike Matheson on the point with Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki on the wings, Kirby Dach in the middle bumper spot and Sean Monahan in front of the net.

The second unit had Arber Xhekaj on the point with Alex Newhook and Juraj Slafkovsky on the wings, Josh Anderson in the bumper spot and Brendan Gallagher in front of the net.

“I got to do well to stay there,” Xhekaj said about his spot on the power play. “I think in pre-season we had something going and we got a lot of chances, but now that the season’s starting, we got to get some chemistry and I’m pretty excited.”

St. Louis believes Xhekaj’s shot can be effective on the power play.

“It’s heavy and it’s not just his slapshot,” St. Louis said. “He’s got a heavy wrister that’s quick off his stick and he’s able to get it through.”

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Xhekaj showed how hard his shot is when he scored a goal against the Senators on Saturday with a wrist shot that went right through the net.

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“That got a little attention,” Xhekaj said with a grin after practice Monday. “The boys were making some jokes about it. It was pretty funny.

“When I shot it, I saw it go under the goalie’s arm and I was like: How is that behind the net?” the 6-foot-4, 240-pound defenceman added. “I didn’t hear a post, so I thought it must have gone through the net. I went to the bench and all the boys were saying it was in, so I kind of figured it must have gone in.”

Video replays showed the puck did indeed go through the net.

It’s not the first time Xhekaj has shot a puck through the net. He said it happened once during a pre-game warmup last season at the Bell Centre.

Xhekaj never played on the power play until his final year of junior with the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs.

“I was just shooting one-timers off the top,” he said. “But the first major time I had on the power play was last year.”

Xhekaj scored two power-play goals last season.

“Power play can win you games,” he said. “If it’s a quiet game, no goals, maybe the power play squeaks you one or two and then you win the game. It’s a big deal. We need to pull our weight. The first unit’s got really good players on it. We also got really good players on our unit. We got to pull our weight and we have to help the team out.”

That’s obvious.

But can they do it?

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