Canadians must improve penalty kills against high-flying Rangers

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What constitutes goalie interference in today’s NHL? It is still a mind-boggling question at times.

“I understand it pretty well,” Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis said 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 scored early in the second period against Buffalo on Thursday night, but the goal was disallowed after a lengthy video review determined that Michael Pezzetta had interfered with Sabers goaltender Devon Levi. While it is undeniable that Pezzetta grazed Levi, the Dollard-des-Ormeaux native had time to recover.

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“It’s very difficult,” Pezzetta said Friday. “I met him. There’s that. But I think he had enough time to reset and save. It was two or three seconds earlier. The referee said that I still collided with him and that he was still recovering from my collision and he couldn’t save.

“It was a good play… the shot and it was a good screen. But I ran into him. Happens. What are you going to do? S… like that happens all the time. If I’m not in front of the net, guarding there, I probably won’t get in. You have to be there for it to come in. It’s a fine line and it’s a game of inches. Six inches out, one more foot out and I don’t touch it. Good screen and it’s a goal. Is that how it works.”

We’ll never know what would have happened if the Canadiens had opened the scoring on their return to the Bell Center after a seven-game road trip. Instead, the visitors claimed a 6-1 victory.

Montreal will try to stem the tide Saturday night at home against the New York Rangers. (7:00 p.m., TVA Sports, Citytv, SNE, TSN Radio-690, 98.5 FM). Samuel Montembeault will start in goal for the Canadiens.

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

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“When we’re taking penalties, we’re pretty good,” St. Louis said. “For me, if just one guy makes a mistake, something opens up. That’s usually the case around the league. We are playing with a structure, I would say, eight or nine of the top 10 in the league play with the same structure. It’s about continuing to learn as a group to be better at it.

“A lot of our things are individual mistakes that we are trying to correct. Some teams will make it harder for you and expose you. You have to make the correct reading at that moment to avoid exposing the team. When our reads are accurate, it’s hard to play against us. When we are a little off, we give up (on goals).”

Mitchell Stephens, who has been used as a penalty kill since his retirement from Laval, said each player must buy into the structure for them to be successful, but mistakes can happen. Making the right readings, he added, will help disrupt the play.

“When we come together as a team, we learn from the previous game, whether it’s five-on-five, five-on-four or the power play as well,” Stephens said. “Analyze a little, teach a few things, learn a few things, let it go and focus on tomorrow.”

The Canadiens recalled forward Emil Heineman from the AHL Rocket on an emergency basis on Friday. St. Louis has been using 11 forwards and seven defensemen due to injuries. In two games against Montreal last month, Heineman was held without points in limited ice time.

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