About last night …

At 4 p.m. yesterday, Bob Gainey said he was happy with his hockey team.

Wonder how he felt six hours later.

Was the general manager thinking he could use a big centre, kind of like that Paul Gaustad guy who ran roughshod and scored twice for the Sabres?

Nah, the Montreal Canadiens don’t need a big centre. Playing to their full potential, Smurfs down the middle can get the job done.

How about a defenceman who can hit and/or move the puck?

Nope, we’re solid on defence – as evidenced by Patrice Brisebois’s 14 minutes and Mike Komisarek playing 19 minutes and having zero – count ’em, ZERO – hits last night.

Gainey says the Canadiens will be fine if the current roster plays to potential.

Which will happen when?

Tomorrow in Atlanta might be a good occasion for all hands to be on deck, because that’s where the good ship CH began to list and take on water.

Remember that Tuesday night game in January?

The Canadiens were coming off wins over Nashville at the Bell Centre and the mighty Senators in Ottawa. The schedule would take them to New Jersey on Wednesday and then into the All-Star break.

Maybe the Canadiens were loking ahead to the Devils. Carey Price was beaten twice on nine shots in the first period, and the Thrashers erased all hope of a Canadiens comeback by outshooting them 18-6 in the third.

New Jersey romped 5-2. Then after Alex Kovalev won a truck and blew kisses to his adoring fans at the Bell, the Canadiens went 0-for-Florida and the slump began.

So Atlanta might be a good place for Bob Gainey’s team to get rolling.

Far be it from me to tell guys with as many Stanley Cup rings as the general manager and his coach how to run their team, but maybe starting Jaroslav Halak would be a good idea.

Carey Price wasn’t the only reason the Canadiens lost last night.

But in four games preceding the visit to Buffalo, Jaro Halak –  with help from Tomas Plekanec, the power play and the penalty-killers – was the reason the Canadiens won.

Jaro  wasn’t in Buffalo last night. And neither were Pleks, the PP and the PK.

The game turned on an innocent mistake. Throwing the puck up the boards, Mathieu Schneider shot it over the glass and was penalized.

It took Derek Roy all of 18 seconds to score, cashing a lucky bounce off Maxim Lapierre into an open net.

The Canadiens had owned the first 15 minutes of the game. They had an 18-3 shot advantage, all four lines were rolling and giving every indication that Gainey was a genius for keeping this juggernaut together.

A 1-0 deficit is not insurmountable. Roy’s goal was not the kind of soul-sapping softy that Price had been giving up far too often. And surely a team that needed no tweaking on trade day was capable of bouncing back?

Uh, no.

With Mike Komisarek, Josh Gorges, Glen Metropolit and Gregory Stewart looking on in rapt fascination, Derek Roy made it 2-0 early in the second period.

Then pesky Patrick Kaleta buried Tom Kostopoulos in the neutral zone, springing Jaroslav Spacek to skate past Patrice Brisebois and beat Price with a 30-footer to his glove side.

Soft goal.

Game over. 

Gaustad, who buried Alex Kovalev on a penalized hit and outmuscled Plekanec all night, scored on the power play and then sped past Mathieu Schneider to beat Price five-hole while the Sabres were shorthanded.

Who needs a big centre, right?

And who needs an enforcer? Big Georges Laraque played eight shifts, 5:17 last night. Injured or benched, he was not on the ice in the third period.

The Canadiens are still fifth in the Eastern Conference – albeit four points out of 10th.

The Florida Panthers, in sixth place, solidified themselves for the stretch drive by not trading Jay Bouwmeester and adding Steve Eminger.

The seventh-place Rangers – with needs evidently matching the Canadiens’ (and Calagary’s) – traded for large centre Nic Antropov and coveted defenceman Derek Morris.

Pittsburgh, clinging to the final playoff spot, picked up Bill Guerin. And Ray Shero had earlier traded for Chris Kunitz.

Buffalo, in ninth, energized the room by re-signing Tim Connolly, then added Mikael Tellqvist – because Patrick Lalime doesn’t face the Canadiens every night – and Dominic Moore.

And 10th-place Carolina welcomed home Habs-killer Erik Cole.

Trader Bob ?

It was a quiet day at the office – and an ugly night in Buffalo.

What, nobody called about the availability of Georges Laraque?

Or Tom Kostopoulos? He may not have Tomas Vanek’s scoring touch, but Tom the Bomb played 16 minutes last night, to 13:42 for the Buffalo sniper.

The Rangers got Nic Antropov for a second-round draft choice. They sent spare parts to Phoenix for Derek Morris.

Trader Bob stood pat.

He says he has the team he wants.

The team he wants has still not mastered defensive zone coverage, 64 games into the season.

The team he wants has Max Pacioretty, who was a freshman at Michigan a year ago, playing with more energy than Andrei Kostitsyn.

But the team he wants has a very good goaltender.

Maybe Jaro Halak will bail out his general manager tomorrow.

• Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Friedman offers an interesting take on Gainey’s inaction. Even with Jokinen, the Canadiens don’t have the horses for a Centennial Cup. So Gainey was wise, Friedman believes, to build toward the future by hanging on to his younger players, rather than sacrificing prospects for a quick fix that probably wouldn’t work.

Friedman is probably right. But man, this rebuilding is getting tired.





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