Canadiens' Juraj Slafkovsky knows he needs to cut down on silly penalties

With two high-sticking infractions against Arizona, young winger has taken 17 minor penalties this season — the most among Montreal forwards.

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Forget that Juraj Slafkovsky now has gone five games without a goal, and has been held to one assist, after being on a torrid pace.

That’s not the end of the world.

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But the slew of seemingly unnecessary penalties the former first-overall draft choice in 2022 has taken of late is starting to become an issue. The Slovak power forward admitted it and, it seems, head coach Martin St. Louis will remain patient for only so long.

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Slafkovsky took a pair of high-sticking penalties Tuesday night against Arizona. Both were in the offensive zone and both could be considered superfluous. While the Coyotes failed to score on either of the power plays, Slafkovsky took his frustration out, after being benched for a shift, on Arizona forward Liam O’Brien, taking him hard into the end boards late in the second period.

There’s no denying Slafkovsky, 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, needs to use his size to be effective. But he also has taken 17 minor penalties — the most among Montreal forwards.

Asked after Wednesday’s practice at the CN Sports Complex in Brossard what he can do to curb his enthusiasm, Slafkovsky was candid and honest.

“I have no idea,” he said. “Maybe keep my stick on the ice? It’s awful. It’s tough. Obviously I don’t want to hurt the team. It sucks that I get too many.”

While St. Louis and Slafkovsky have yet to discuss the recent rash of penalties — the 19-year-old took three minors last Wednesday against Buffalo — it could become inevitable should the problem persist. Following the 4-2 victory against Arizona, St. Louis brushed it off as a young player learning about life in the NHL.

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The head coach was more expansive on Wednesday, not only addressing Slafkovsky’s play but the fact the Canadiens haven’t had any power plays since the third period of last Thursday’s game in Pittsburgh.

“You don’t like to take penalties that don’t prevent a scoring chance,” St. Louis explained. “It’s a fine line. You compete on the ice. It’s an emotional game. You don’t want to go out there with white gloves, being scared of taking penalties. We’re trying to manage that. I think, overall, we’ve done a pretty good job.

“In terms of the lack of power plays, I feel in Jersey (last Saturday) we deserved some. I don’t think last game we deserved any; we just didn’t play well. It’s hard to draw penalties when you don’t have the puck a lot, you don’t execute enough and you don’t have the pace that you need. Speed will force teams to take penalties, and we just didn’t bring that last game.”

Slafkovsky admitted he must be smarter with his stick. He also admitted keeping both hands on it would undoubtedly help. He has 12 goals and 30 points in 59 games this season after producing six goals and 12 points over an eight-game stretch that began in late January.

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“It’s just tough. I’ve never had as many penalties as I have now,” Slafkovsky said. “I kind of have to figure it out. It’s kind of hard (spending) two minutes in the box. Thank God last game we didn’t get scored on. I don’t want to do anything against the team. I’m pissed. I want to play every shift and (when he was benched) it made me mad.”

Slafkovsky also admitted he tends to talk back to the officials after being penalized. That’s considered taboo for any player beginning his career and could lead to him having a target on his back.

“Maybe I shouldn’t scream as much,” he said.

With the Canadiens’ five-game losing streak now over, the team begins a four-game road trip Thursday night at Florida (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN Radio-690, 98.5 FM), before stops in Tampa Bay, Nashville and Carolina. Montreal hasn’t defeated the Panthers, who reached the Stanley Cup final last season, since April 29, 2022 — Carey Price‘s final game. Since then, the Canadiens have lost six straight to Florida.

“You have to bring your A-game,” St. Louis said. “You have to be precise. You have to be engaged. You have to manage the risks you take.”

Notes: Forward Jake Evans and defenceman Jayden Struble took therapy days and didn’t practice on Wednesday. Both players will join the team on the road trip. … Samuel Montembeault, fresh off his 36-save performance against the Coyotes, will start in net in Florida, St. Louis says.

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