The return of defenceman James Wisniewski from a bout of strep throat may be just what the Montreal Canadiens' luckless power play needs heading into a key meeting with the Boston Bruins.
The Canadiens are 0-for-22 with the man advantage over their last five games, including two over the weekend without Wisniewski, their best shooter from the point.
"He brings a different dimension, for sure - that threat of a shot," captain Brian Gionta said Tuesday. "Regardless if he takes one or not, you have to respect it."
The Canadiens visit the Bruins on Wednesday night and return home to face the New York Islanders on Thursday.
The Montreal power play has controlled the puck in the opponents' end and had many chances, but the puck hasn't gone in for a unit that has slipped to 12th in the NHL with an 18.2 per cent success rate.
Wisniewski's take is that the power play misses winger Michael Cammalleri, who will sit out an eighth game with a shoulder injury.
"He's a huge threat off the half wall, shooting the puck," said Wisniewski. "Teams look to shut him down, but with his presence lost, they can key on the point shots and try to take them away.
"But the games where we weren't scoring power-play goals, it looked like we were getting a lot of chances. It's just that the puck wasn't going in, so if we keep things simple, get more point shots, hopefully it will open the floodgates."
Coach Jacques Martin, whose team is already without top rearguard Andrei Markov, said the power play should find ways to score regardless of who is missing and that "we have to be better than we've been lately."
They may need the power play to get through what should be an intense battle in Boston, not only because the Canadiens have a chance to move into a tie with Boston for the NHL Northeast Division lead, although the Bruins hold a game in hand.
The Canadiens have won all three meetings between the old rivals this season. The most recent on Jan. 8 in Montreal was a wild one.
Montreal trailed 2-0 when Scott Gomez scored with 2:22 left in regulation time and Gionta tied it with Carey Price pulled for an extra attacker with 48 seconds to play.
After Max Pacioretty got the game-winner 3:43 into overtime, he inexplicably gave hulking Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara a shove, sparking a melee that saw Chara and Montreal rearguard Hal Gill handed misconduct penalties.
"Every game (against Boston) has been a good game and, with the emotion at the end of the last game here, this should be another," said centre Jeff Halpern. "It's a team we want to catch.
"There's still quite a few games left to play but we'd like to give ourselves every chance we can."
Martin juggled his third and fourth lines, putting faceoff ace Halpern between physical winger Travis Moen and playmaker Benoit Pouliot for a unit that should see a lot of ice time, while Tom Pyatt was moved in with rookie David Desharnais and veteran Mathieu Darche.
The Bruins have issues of their own.
Centre Patrice Bergeron, who has two goals and three assists against Montreal this season, went to hospital for stitches Tuesday after being struck in the face when a Johnny Boychuk shot deflected off the glass. Coach Claude Julien said Bergeron should be able to play.
That came a day after the team announced that top centre Marc Savard was gone for the rest of the season with a concussion. And defenceman Andrew Ference is still feeling heat for criticizing teammate Daniel Paille, who is serving a four-game suspension for a blindside hit on an opponent.
The ingredients are there for a classic Montreal-Boston battle.
"Being a Montreal fan growing up I didn't really understand the rivalry, but playing in it is fun," said rookie defenceman P.K. Subban, who has four points in his last three games. "Both teams are doing well, so that makes the rivalry even more heated."
Notes: Wisniewski said he has dealt with bouts of strep throat since childhood. "I get it twice a year, around October and around February," he said. "I know when I'm getting it. I know my symptoms. I don't know if it's that my body starts wearing down at the beginning of the season from training and then halfway to the three-quarter point of the season and I'm susceptible to it. Usually I catch it in time, but this time I was about a day late and it put me off." . . It has been one year since Pierre Gauthier took over from Bob Gainey as general manager on Feb. 8, 2010. Gainey remains a consultant and is involved in player decisions. . . Martin said Cammalleri may resume practising with the team later this week.
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