Original Six rivals struggling to convert power-play opportunities will meet Saturday night in Montreal.
The winless Canadiens (0-5) — coming off a season as Stanley Cup finalists — will play host to the Red Wings (2-1-1) in an attempt to snap the longest season-opening losing streak the franchise has endured in 83 years.
Montreal’s inability to score with the man advantage has been a key element in its struggles. It is 1-for-19 (5.3% success) to rank 30th in the 32-team NHL. Detroit is 22nd at 14.3% with only two power-play goals.
The Red Wings had been effective on power plays in the preseason, but they’ve been unable to cash in enough in four regular-season games.
Coach Jeff Blashill was asked to explain why his team came up empty on three power plays in Thursday night’s 3-0 home loss to the Calgary Flames.
“We didn’t handle their pressure good enough,” he said. “When we had chances to attack, we didn’t attack. When we had chances to make plays, we didn’t make plays. And we turned the puck over too many times when we didn’t need to do that.”
Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin added: “We’re going to look at the film and try to be better. We have the guys in the locker room to have a good power play unit. We believe that.”
Forwards Tyler Bertuzzi and Filip Zadina have Detroit’s power-play goals.
It won’t help that Bertuzzi can’t play in Montreal because he’s the lone Red Wing electing not to get the coronavirus vaccine and isn’t allowed in his native country. He’s scored a team-high five goals and is the kind of aggressive shooter who makes opponents pay for being down one man.
Blashill said even one power-play goal would’ve made a big difference against Calgary. But Detroit was blanked on two opportunities while putting 14 shots on goalie Jacob Markstrom in the second period.
“We had enough opportunities,” Blashill said. “If you score one or two, it’s a different atmosphere. … Ultimately, the power play needs to be better than it was.”
Larkin noted: “The success we had there preseason doesn’t really mean a lot. It’s different. It’s the next level when you start the regular season. … I just don’t think the passes were crisp enough. We fumbled the puck. We’ve got to be sharper.”
Tired legs also could have something to do with it. Detroit played its fourth game in eight days, and Blashill elected to cancel Friday’s scheduled practice and travel to Montreal without hitting the rink.
“We practiced hard (Wednesday),” Larkin said after Thursday night’s game. “When we don’t have our legs and our emotion together, we’ve got to simplify and play a better hockey game.”
The captain was talking about finding a way when things aren’t clicking in a particular game, and Blashill made it clear that power-play goals can be the juice required to produce victories in such games.
Montreal notched its first power-play goal Thursday night with Tyler Toffoli connecting. Its opponents are 8-for-18 with the man advantage, and the Canadiens’ inability to kill penalties in the early going could help open the door for the Red Wings.
Larkin knows Montreal will be wired for success, noting the Wings “have to be desperate or match their desperation.”
Blashill, before the season’s fifth game and first on the road, said he doesn’t like using “desperation” in this case.
“We’ve got to have that urgency,” Blashill said, preferring that word. “We’ve got to have it every night.”
Montreal also lost its first five games in 1995-96, but hasn’t gone longer without its initial victory since 1938, when it lost the first seven.
“It’s tough right now,” center Nick Suzuki told NHL.com. “It’s just the confidence for our group just seems to be low. There’s plays that we make all the time and we’re not executing them. It’s definitely a tough patch. … Good teams find a way to get out of it, and we need to really bounce back.”
Steve Kornacki is a freelance writer.
Red Wings at Canadiens
► Faceoff: 7 p.m. Saturday, Bell Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
► TV/radio: BSD/97.1
► Outlook: Montreal has been outscored, 19-4, in its 0-5 start. The Canadiens have yet to score more than one goal in a game, and have lost the first three of a four-game homestand. … Detroit will play seven of its next eight games on the road after its 2-1-1 start at home.