Canadiens must improve penalty-killing against high-flying Rangers

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What constitutes goaltender interference in today’s NHL? It occasionally remains a mind-boggling question.

“I have a pretty good understanding of it,” Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis said on Friday, following an optional practice at the CN Sports Complex in Brossard. “I understood the decision. I didn’t like it, but I understood it.”

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Joel Armia opened the scoring early in the second period against Buffalo on Thursday night, but the goal was disallowed following a lengthy video review that determined Michael Pezzetta had interfered with Sabres netminder Devon Levi. While Pezzetta undeniably brushed Levi, the Dollard-des-Ormeaux native had sufficient time to recover.

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“It’s such a tough one,” Pezzetta said on Friday. “I did bump into him. There’s that. But I think he had enough time to reset and make the save. It was two or three seconds before. The ref said I still bumped into him, and he was still recovering from me bumping into him, and couldn’t make the save.

“It was a good play … the shot and it was a good screen. But I did bump into him. It happens. What are you going to do? S— like that happens all the time. If I’m not in front of the net, screening there, it probably doesn’t go in. You have to be there for it to go in. It’s such a fine line and it’s a game of inches. Six inches out, a foot farther out and I don’t touch him. Good screen and it’s a goal. That’s the way it goes.”

We’ll never know what might have transpired had the Canadiens opened the scoring in their return to the Bell Centre following a seven-game road trip. Instead, the visitors breezed to a 6-1 victory. Montreal will attempt to stem the tide Saturday night at home against the New York Rangers (7 p.m., TVA Sports, Citytv, SNE, TSN Radio-690, 98.5 FM). The visitors are first overall in the league (26-10-1) and tied with Colorado in points, although the Rangers have played two fewer games.

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New York also has the NHL’s second-most potent power play heading into Friday’s games, operating at 30.4-per-cent efficiency. The Canadiens are second-worst at killing penalties (72.1 per cent) and allowed two more goals against Buffalo.

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“When we’re on (killing penalties), we’re pretty good,” St. Louis said. “To me, if just one guy makes a mistake, it opens up something. That’s usually the case around the league. We’re playing a structure, I would say, eight or nine of the best 10 in the league play the same structure. It’s about keep learning as a group to be better at it.

“A lot of our stuff is individual mistakes that we’re trying to correct. Some teams will make it harder on you and will expose you. You have to make the correct read at that time to not expose the team. When our reads are sharp, we’re hard to play against. When we’re just a little bit off, we give up (goals).”

Mitchell Stephens, who has been used to kill penalties since his recall from Laval, said every player must buy into the structure for it to succeed, but mistakes can occur. Making the right reads, he added, will help to disrupt the play.

“When we meet as a team, we learn from the game before, whether that’s five-on-five, five-on-four, the power-play as well,” Stephens said. “Dissect a little bit, teach a few things, learn a few things, let it go and focus on tomorrow.”

The Canadiens on Friday recalled forward Emil Heineman from the AHL Rocket on an emergency basis. St. Louis has been utilizing 11 forwards and seven defencemen because of injuries. In two games with Montreal last month, Heineman was held without a point in limited ice time.

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