And, unfortunately, it’s been like that for a while.
The 1A line of Tomas Plekanec, Mike Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn is set. AK and Pleks have been playing together for several years now and Cammy has fit in nicely.
Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez have chemistry dating back a decade.
But our captain and his center have been lacking a reliable winger since joining the Habs.
So far this season, Jacques Martin has tried Benoit Pouliot, Travis Moen, Mathieu Darche and now even Tom Pyatt is getting a look. These guys all got shots last year as did others, going all the way back to future/washed up power forward Guillaume Latendresse.
This hole needs to be filled.
Why did we lose to Philadelphia in last season’s playoffs?
Our goaltending? Jaroslav Halak was The Sensation of the post-season.
Our defense? Josh Gorges and Hal Gill were shot-blocking shutdown machines.
Our youth? Tom Pyatt and PK Subban played like seasoned vets.
Our top-liners? Cammalleri couldn’t not score.
Essentially we only had four top-6 forwards in Pleks, Gio, Cammy, and Gomez. AK46 was slumping and Pouliot was slumbering. They had chances and lots of space with the other teams mainly leaving them alone in order to focus on their more dangerous linemates.
I saw our lack of secondary scoring as the Habs biggest deficiency and primary concern to be addressed during the summer.
Alas, Pierre Gauthier put his faith back into Pouliot and Kostitsyn an instead tinkered with a team that really didn’t have much business playing in the Eastern Conference Finals.
With Sergei not back-checking in Nashville now, a healthy Andrei is showing just why he was a first round pick. And since it’s a contract year for the big Belarussian, he’ll hopefully keep it up for 82+ games. If he can notch 25-35 goals, his season will be a success.
If Pouliot can not suck for a game or two, that will be a success.
I know the guy has confidence issues but at some point you have to question his work ethic and his passion. Sometimes it seems he’d rather be serving poutine in Alfred than playing in the NHL.
With Pouliot doing time on the fourth line now, someone has to step up and show that they can skate with Gomer and Gionta.
Moen, Pyatt, and Darche are all great players in their own respect but they are not going to give us secondary scoring or show the offensive creativity that’s probably necessary to produce on a top line. Sure, they might be a net presence or be able to make some room in the corners but they also need to be able to covert on beauty passes and help out on odd man rushes.
So what are the Habs to do?
Well, there’s not much that they can do right now.
The first problem is there’s no stellar prospect down in Hamilton to fill that role. Maybe Max Pacioretty can be a top-6 forward but probably not this week and maybe not even this year.
Secondly, we don’t have a ton of cap space to try and fill out the roster.
Hard to bring someone up and hard to make a trade.
I doubt this will happen but I’d love to see David Desharnais play a few games up here. I know he’s tiny but he’s got hands of platinum and after watching Gomer, Gio and Cammy for a year I now know that size definitely does not matter. I’m sure Gionta could teach the kid a lot too.
Before that, however, Lars Eller needs to get a look. Not for a few shifts or for a game or two – he needs to play 5-10 games on the top line without fear of demotion and 4:00 minutes of ice-time. He’s shown lots of promise and he’s on the payroll. Give the kid a chance, Jacques.
Eller is a rookie though and I can understand why Martin is hesistant to put Eller into that position.
For a second straight year I think this will be the Habs’ Achilles’ heal. Improved play from Andrei Kostitsyn will help tremendously but we’ll never see Gomez and Gionta at their best without another true top-6 forward skating alongside them.
This issue will most likely only be addressed at the trade deadline or, more likely, next summer when a substantial amount of cash gets freed up. Imagine if we use Roman Hamrlik’s $5.5 million to sign a legit winger?
Until then, I’m afraid Martin will be forced to play fourth liners players above their pay-grade.