A puff of refreshing honesty came out of Tomas Plekanec's mouth when discussing his play so far in the postseason.
"The last two games, I played like a little girl out there," the Montreal Canadiens centre said yesterday, the day after his team suffered a 2-1 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins. "I didn't respond the way I liked."
You don't need the expertise of Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey to concede that the play of Plekanec and his linemates, Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn, has not been up to snuff in the first-round playoff series, which the Habs lead 2-1, with the fourth game back at the TD Banknorth Garden today.
All season, the threesome supplied plenty of offence to keep the Canadiens winning and the league's top-ranked power-play unit humming. But they have checked in with only two goals, including one on the power play, in three games against Boston. Even Montreal's line of Bryan Smolinski, Tom Kostopoulos and Steve Begin has been responsible for four goals.
"I think [Plekanec]knows he can play better," head coach Guy Carbonneau said. "But he's not the only one who can play better."
Give Plekanec, a native of Kladno, Czech Republic, credit. He knows the problem with his play has been that he has been soft against the hard-checking Bruins. He knows he has to exhibit more determination in battles for the puck.
The Bruins have been employing behemoth defenceman Zdeno Chara and his partner, Aaron Ward, in situations against the Plekanec line and using either the threesome of Marc Savard, Milan Lucic and Glen Murray up front or the line of Glen Metropolit, Peter Schaefer and Petteri Nokelainen.
The key for the Bruins has been their ability to keep the Plekanec line to the outside. They also have limited Kovalev's effectiveness by slowing his speed through the neutral zone, and when he does carry the puck, a forward and defenceman immediately mark him.
The Canadiens power play is 1-for-18 in the series, last among the 16 playoff teams, after leading the league with a 24.1-per-cent success rate in the regular season.
"I think the big adjustment [the Bruins]have made is that they have been less aggressive," said Montreal defenceman Mark Streit, who along with Andrei Markov patrols the blueline on the power play. "They have been collapsing in front of their goal area and taking away our passing seams.
"This happened to us in the regular season, when there were three or four games in a row in the regular season when we struggled. We'll make some adjustments that will work out."
In fact, Canadiens assistant coach Doug Jarvis was reviewing videotape yesterday from the first three games, searching for a crack in the Bruins' penalty-killing system.
It certainly would be a bonus if the Canadiens had captain Saku Koivu back in the lineup to give them a more productive second power-play unit. But Koivu hasn't skated since he fractured his left foot on March 28 and won't test his foot until he undergoes another X-ray in Montreal.
"Where we miss Saku is his experience," Carbonneau said. "He has that experience to finish off plays on the power play. He has that presence to make plays that others can't."
So far, Carbonneau has kept the same lineup intact for the first three games.
He was coy when asked whether there would be alterations made for the fourth game.
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