Who’s On Second?

Nobody.

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.
Desperately.

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?

Drool.

Until then, I’m afraid Martin will be forced to play fourth liners players above their pay-grade.

9 Comments

  1. mbplekfan says:

    If you are going to use Eller on that line he has to be pencilled in for at least 5 games. Stop shifting the kid to the end of the bench and give them time to play together.

    We traded a pretty good goalie for Eller and he needs ice time.

  2. Chris Aung-Thwin says:

    You know who else we traded to St-Louis? Matt D’Agostini. The kid already has 3 goals. The Habs don’t have anyone with 3 goals. I’m not saying I want Dagger back but once in a while I’d like a trade to work for us.


    The Other Wing

  3. 24 Cups says:

    Chris – Both AK46 and Pouliot have had tons of time to get their games in order.  Andrei (2003) needs to score 35 and Pouliot (2005) should aim for 25.  Anything less than that is just not good enough.  They have no competition from anyone on the team or down on the farm so they should get lots of ice time as well as PP minutes.

    Time to stop with the excuses and start producing.

  4. AH says:

    Bang on 24! “Time to stop with the excuses” you bet. Last year everyone was saying how Pouliot should be so much better now that he is out of Minny and in a “real” hockey market and bonus for him: “he’s close to home”! Well let’s be honest all he’s done is go downhill since then, and he even got rewarded with more money! Don’t get me wrong, I like the guy a lot, but come on produce already!!!  

  5. Chris Aung-Thwin says:

    I don’t know if getting PP time is a good thing on this team…


    The Other Wing

  6. Chris Aung-Thwin says:

    Thanks!

    And you’re bang on – we need, and have needed, that big netcrashing forward. Not Dagger, or Lats, or Moen. I’m confident saying that it’s not Pouliot (unless he suddenly becomes a completely different style player) or even Eller, who’s probably more suited as a 2nd or 3rd line center. I’d love some type of Ryan Smyth type player but we have no one in the system who matches that profile. Until we find a solution, however, we’re always going to have a huge glaring hole that’s going to be our Achilles’ heel.


    The Other Wing

  7. New says:

    I think there is a space in front of the net and the trick is to be there when the puck gets to that area. Most goals are scored from there. The goalie makes incredible saves on shots from there, but 3 out of 10 times he doesn’t have a chance. I have seen Habs players go there, but the puck doesn’t. I have seen Habs players leave there to get the puck, but no one else goes there. I have seen the crowd roar for the rush, the low percentage shot, the cycling, for chasing the puck.

    I think most time the game is decided by special teams. The team Montreal Canadiens would be the talk of the league right now if the powerplay was at 25 or 30%, and they played like this at regular strength. (Today they are 27th in goals per game, last in powerplay, and first in PK)  They are doing a lot of things right, and a few things wrong. They are one player (Markov) away from being in every game (except NJ who bore them and me to death but would bow out in the playoffs) and only two players away from being a dominant team.

    I don’t think Dags (shooting 50%) was that player. Nor Lats. I doubt you do either. Perhaps Pouliot or Eller, that is up to them. If not, then the team, for the first time in many years has assets to deal with. Keep writing Chris, your stuff is always great.

  8. Chris Aung-Thwin says:

    I guess Thursday’s line-up experiment was a bust. Let’s hope things work out a bit better in Ottawa.


    The Other Wing

  9. Ian Cobb says:

    Article is on the money Chris. But don’t count out Pyatt making a difference on the G&G line. If not Eller might, but a little early for him to be up on that line yet.

    We just might have to bundle up two or even three of our spare parts and trade them for a bonafide top liner. But even that move might be hard to put together. Anyway your right, we have to find some chemistry for Gionta and Gomes.


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