But not “Where are your linemates?”
David Desharnais and the sublime Erik Cole were where they always are – working their butts off shift after shift, in concert with Pacioretty, to make life very difficult for opposing goaltenders and defencemen.
But where was Tomas Plekanec, who had the grand total of one shot on goal and did nothing to create space or scoring chances for his wingers?
The Canadiens were playing their 50th game of the season. As you may have heard, the team is in desperate straits. The odds of making the playoffs were long even before the loss to the Sabres dropped the Canadiens into 13th place in the Eastern Conference standings.
This is when the warriors step up – and the wimps fade.
Plekanec used to elevate the play of his linemates. Not any more.
You could make the argument that Rene Bourque and Scott Gomez don’t complement Plekanec’s skills to the same degree as Brian Gionta, Mike Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn – to name just three of the players who have passed through revolving doors on either side of Pleks over the last few seasons.
But the player who began the season as the Canadiens’ Number 1 centre – and yes, that is a bit of a joke and speaks to the team’s problems at that pivotal (no pun) position – is disappearing just when the team needs all hands on deck.
Plekanec has been held off the scoresheet in 26 games this season. In January, he had two goals and two assists. His best moments have been breakaways on the penalty-kill. And an ostensibly adept defensive hockey player is minus-12 on the season – worst among the team’s forwards.
Jacques Martin’s go-to centre in a variety of situations – including that quixotic attempt to use him at the point on the power-play – Plekanec is sinking like a stone on Randy Cunneyworth’s depth chart.
Desharnais is playing better than Plekanec. So is Lars Eller, most of the time.
Barring injury, DD and Eller will be even better next season.
Plekanec? On nights such as this, it’s difficult to see much upside.
Every loss increases the likelihood that the Canadiens will be sellers on Feb. 27.
Should Plekanec be added to the Available list?
Perhaps so. His checking and shorthanded talents would make Pleks attractive to a team looking to make a deep playoff run.
Travis Moen, who was missed against a Buffalo team that threw its weight around, fits that category as well: Solid defensive role player.
There I go dusting off For Sale items in the front window.
The season isn’t over yet, right?
Well, the Canadiens are mathematically alive and will remain so into March. But the team that was outhustled and lost all those puck battles to the desperate Sabres looked an awful lot like an also-ran that should start planning for 2012-’13.
If we climb into the time machine and fast-forward to September, there will be reasons to feel good about the Canadiens:
• Carey Price was brilliant against the Sabres, stopping 37 of 39 shots and preventing the game from becoming a total rout.
Through two periods of a game they had to win, the Canadiens were outshot 30-15 in their own barn. That it was 1-1 after that barrage is a tribute to Price’s excellence. He’s the cornerstone of this team’s future.
• Has an athlete in any sport responded a free-agent contract with as much energy and determination as Erik Cole? This guy earns every nickel of $4.5 million; too bad Cole isn’t more of an inspiration to underachieving and overpaid Canadiens.
• Alexei Emelin had five hits, played 1:18 on the PK and looks better with each game he plays on his natural right side. With Josh Gorges, P.K. Subban, Raphael Diaz and – inshallah, but I’m not betting my house on it – Andrei Markov, Emelin will be part of a solid Gill-free/Campoliless defence corps next season.
Back back to the grim present.
The Canadiens play in New Jersey Thursday night.
The Devils are battling the Leafs, Jets and Panthers for playoff spots.
Maybe the Canadiens will win and the fans will get juiced again, as they did in the immediate aftermath of that ridiculous stomping of the Red Wings.
But for long stretches on Tuesday night, as Buffalo dominated puck possession and zipped around the Canadiens’ zone, setting up a succession of uncontested blasts from the points, the Bell Centre was a very quiet place.
That’s often been the case this season.
Montreal fans have seen a lot of great hockey over the decades.
We’ve seen little of it lately, and the many nights of monotonous mediocrity have drained energy from the building.
Maybe if Detroit played here more often …