5 Keys for Montreal Canadiens to Finish Strong in 2013-14 NHL Regular Season

Brandon DuBreuil@@brandondubreuilContributor IIIApril 8, 2014

5 Keys for Montreal Canadiens to Finish Strong in 2013-14 NHL Regular Season

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    P.K. Subban
    P.K. SubbanJoel Auerbach/Getty Images

    The Montreal Canadiens are hoping to finish the 2013-14 NHL season strongly. They have already clinched a playoff spot, but home-ice advantage in the first round has yet to be determined. 

    The Habs finish the regular-season schedule with a road game against the Chicago Blackhawks on April 9, followed by home dates with the New York Islanders on April 10 and the New York Rangers on April 12. 

    They'd love to cruise into the playoffs having won all three. There are some important issues the Canadiens must address during the final week if they hope to do just that. 

    Here are five keys for the Montreal Canadiens to finish strong in the 2013-14 NHL regular season. 

Power Play

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    P.K. Subban and the rest of the power play need to be better.
    P.K. Subban and the rest of the power play need to be better.Dave Reginek/Getty Images

    Here are some frightening power-play facts for Montreal Canadiens fans:

    • The Habs don't have a power-play goal in their last five games (0-for-17).
    • The power play has scored three times in its last 34 opportunities.
    • The Canadiens haven't scored more than one power-play goal in a game since the March 18 game against Colorado.
    • Both P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov's last power-play point came on the last-second goal against Ottawa on March 15 (and that was a 6-on-4 situation).  

    It's been a strange turn of events this season, as the Habs have finally figured out how to score at even strength, but seem to have lost all confidence on the power play. 

    The Canadiens are struggling to gain the zone while up a man. They are turned away at the opponents blue line far too easily.

    When the Habs choose to skate the puck into the opponent's zone, they need more support for the puck carrier. If they choose to dump it in, they need two forecheckers on the opposing defense faster. 

    Even when they do gain possession, the power play is still far too one dimensional. They move the puck around and look for a Subban or Markov shot. The problem is that every team knows that, and it's easy to shut down an NHL power play when you know what's coming. 

    The Canadiens are going to have to find new ways to create offensive chances on the power play. Perhaps a few more practices with Thomas Vanek, Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais as a number-one unit will help. 

    The power play is struggling as the playoffs near. It needs to improve if Montreal wants to finish the regular season strongly. It really needs to improve if Montreal hopes to advance past the first round of the playoffs. 

Playing a Full 60 Minutes

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    Carey Price would enjoy a 60-minute effort.
    Carey Price would enjoy a 60-minute effort.Francois Lacasse/Getty Images

    Recently the Montreal Canadiens have developed a habit of falling asleep for a short period of time during games. While it has made for some entertaining hockey, it's certainly something they'll want to fix before the postseason. 

    Let's take the April 5 game against Detroit as example.

    The Canadiens came out strong against a desperate Red Wings team. Michael Bournival gave the Habs a 1-0 lead after one before Max Pacioretty and Brian Gionta made it a three-goal advantage heading into the third.

    And then the Habs fell asleep. Detroit opened the final period by scoring three times in the first 11 minutes, and all of a sudden it was a tie game. 

    That seemed to wake the Canadiens up, as they would score two more to win 5-3.

    There was also the game the night before against Ottawa, where the Canadiens stumbled out of the gate and allowed the Senators to build a 3-0- lead after just 5:50. 

    That, of course, got the Canadiens going and they scored seven-straight goals en route to a 7-4 victory. 

    Montreal has been getting away with these stretches of terrible hockey. They're finding ways to win despite the lapses.

    It is a bad habit, however, and it is something that great teams just don't do. They'll need to play a full 60 minutes if they want to finish the season strong and be at the top of their game heading into the postseason. 

Not Looking Too Far Ahead

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    The Montreal Canadiens have already clinched a playoff berth.
    The Montreal Canadiens have already clinched a playoff berth.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The Montreal Canadiens locked up a spot in the postseason with five games remaining on their 2013-14 schedule. It's also been quite clear for some time that their first-round opponent will be the Tampa Bay Lightning

    Really, the only thing left to do is to battle for home-ice advantage, and even that is looking favorable for the Habs. "Any combination of Montreal wins and Tampa losses adding up to two" will give Montreal the second seed in the Atlantic Division, according to Stu Cowan of Hockey Inside/Out.  

    With little to play for during the last week, coach Michel Therrien will be tasked with keeping his squad focused. It will be easy for the Canadiens to look past their next three opponents and into the playoffs.

    Therrien, of course, wants to keep his team sharp and playing at its highest level. A lackluster performance over the last few regular-season games could mean a slow start in the postseason. 

Production from Depth Players

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    Peter Budaj (left) will likely play at least once this week.
    Peter Budaj (left) will likely play at least once this week.Andre Ringuette/Getty Images

    Having clinched a playoffs berth, and having almost clinched home-ice advantage in the first round, coach Michel Therrien will likely use the last week of the season to give some of his star players a rest. 

    Depth players should see lots of ice time during the final week. Their performances figure to play a big role in Montreal's final-week success. 

    Carey Price will probably be rested at least once this week, perhaps during the back-to-back games against Chicago and the New York Islanders. Peter Budaj will need to be sharp when he gets the call. 

    Coach Michel Therrien should also be rolling four lines and three defensive pairings all week long. He won't want to risk injuries by over playing his stars. The depth players will need to contribute. 

    Therrien could also choose to rest certain players over the course of the week.

    Veteran Andrei Markov would be the obvious choice. The 35-year-old has played a ton of hockey this season, averaging 25:11 of ice in 79 games with the Canadiens, plus his time with Team Russia at the Olympics. 

    Other candidates for a rest would include veterans Brian Gionta, Tomas Plekanec and Thomas Vanek. It's also possible that some of the Canadiens are playing slightly hurt and could use a therapy day or two. 

    Therrien will take advantage of the fact that the Canadiens have clinched a postseason spot to ensure his stars and veterans are ready for next week. The performance of the depth players will be a key to Montreal's strong finish over the next three games. 

Josh Gorges' Return

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    Josh Gorges
    Josh GorgesHarry How/Getty Images

    Josh Gorges is expected to make his return to the lineup on March 9 against the Chicago Blackhawks, as Arpon Basu of NHL.com reports. 

    The veteran defenseman broke his hand during a game on March 1. He initially tried to play through the pain, but has been out of the lineup since March 6. 

    Montreal has won 10 of 15 games in Gorges' absence, so they have found a way to win without him. He is an integral part of the Canadiens' blue line, however, and will certainly bolster the back six for the playoff run. 

    In the fifteen games sans Gorges, the Canadiens have allowed 2.8 goals per game. This is quite a bit above their season average of 2.48. It's a number they'll want to lower in the postseason, and Gorges should help with that. 

    Gorges' return should also have a positive impact on his defensive partner, P.K. Subban. 

    In Gorges' absence, Subban has been paired with 38-year-old Francis Bouillon. The veteran has put forth a valiant effort in playing alongside Subban, but he just can't offer what Gorges can. 

    Subban and Bouillon have been victimized by the opposition over the past couple of weeks. Coach Michel Therrien has not been pleased with the amount of goals the pairing has given up, and Subban's ice time has suffered. 

    The reigning Norris Trophy winner has played under 20 minutes in three-straight games, including a season-low of 13:39 against the Senators on April 4. He has not been able to play his style of game while also having to make up for the mistakes that Bouillon makes.

    Having Gorges return should get Subban back on track. He'll be able to make the risky plays that make him effective while being confident that Gorges has him covered. 

    Gorges is an important part of the Canadiens' top-six defence and his return will be key down the stretch and into the playoffs.