Three games into the regular season, and Canadiens’ head coach Jacques Martin is already playing musical chairs as a way to kick-start forward Benoit Pouliot.
Truth be told, The Coach should also pull a couple of chairs for Pouliot’s linemates, Scott Gomez and Team Captain Brian Gionta. Martin had given Pouliot the benefit of the doubt by playing him with Gionta and Gomez since the start of the season. When it comes to Pouliot, the seeds of doubt were sewn last season, when he fell off map after initially starting his career with the Habs in fine fashion when he came over from the Minnesota Wild for Guillaume Latendresse.
In training camp, Pouliot acknowledged that his slide down the depth chart as a result of his lacklustre play served as a wake-up call heading into this season. However, three games in, Pouliot has yet to really wake up. He’s had his moments, but not enough of them. I’ve seen him go to the net, but not often enough. I’ve seen him fire that puck, but it would be nice if he hit the net.
Then again, he’s not alone. Gomez and Gionta have been largely ineffective, as well. However, as we all know, The Coach tends to look at his forward units as pairs, as opposed to trios, and it’s easier keeping Gionta and Gomez together than it is re-inventing the wheel with a first/second-line scenario involving Pouliot.
As a result, look for Pouliot to hit the ice tomorrow night in Buffalo on a line with Dustin Boyd and Tom Pyatt, if today’s line combinations at practice are any indication. And look for Travis Moen to move up and replace Pouliot on the Gomez-Gionta unit.
Travis Moen? Colour me lukewarm to the move. Moen saw spot duty as a top-six forward last season, and, quite frankly, he didn’t impress. Truth be told, I have not been knocked out by Moen’s play since he came over to the Canadiens last season. If Moen was ultimately expected to step in and provide the grit they lost when Tom Kostopoulos left town, he hasn’t done it. I miss “Tom the Bomb.” And I think the Canadiens miss him, too. I think Dustin Boyd has the potential to be the player that Travis Moen hasn’t been, but I digress.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: Why doesn’t The Coach replace Pouliot with Lars Eller on the Gionta-Gomez line??? And I would rate that as a very good question. Eller was solid with gusts to very good when he stepped in for the suspended Michael Cammalleri in the game one loss to the Leafs. Last night he came together very nicely with Jeff Halpern and Max Lapierre to form an effective unit against Tampa in last night’s 4-3 overtime loss; Which is perhaps why we saw those three at practice today, and may very well see them together again tomorrow night against the Sabres. It was Eller’s hard work in the opposing corner that led to a goal by Lapierre last night.
So, when it comes to Eller, why mess with success?
The most dangerous line last night against the Lightning featured Cammalleri with Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn, with all three figuring on the scoresheet. Kostitsyn is the wild-card on that line. Last night he came to play. Will he come to play tomorrow night? That’s the $64,000 question. And that’s been the question surrounding Kostitsyn throughout much of his career with the Canadiens.
Defensively, Roman Hamrlik returned to the lineup last night after sitting out the entire pre-season and first two games of the regular season with a bad knee. The news will get even better along the blueline, when Andrei Markov returns following off-season knee surgery. He’s expected to return before we turn the page on October.
So, at the end of the day, the Canadiens shuffle off to Buffalo, a .500 hockey club: earning three of possible six points, thanks to the play of goaltender Carey Price, who was okay in the loss to Toronto; very good in the win against Pittsburgh, and excellent in last night’s overtime loss to Tampa Bay. So far, Price is keeping his end of the bargain. It’s time for some of the players up front to do the same.