Kukla's Korner Hockey
by The Upper Canadien on 11/01/10 at 10:43 AM ET
The Montreal Canadiens wrapped up the weekend with a 3-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday night. The Habs were playing their third game in four nights and looked the part, wearing down fairly early and fading as the third period went on.
However, more important than the outcome for most Habs fans was the return of Andrei Markov. The best defenceman in Montreal returned Saturday to record five shots but was unable to get on the scoresheet as he was eased back into the lineup. Markov was paired with PK Subban, playing an impressive 23:03 in his return.
Second line blues
Montreal has had a good start to the year, but their major challenge continues to be a lack of secondary scoring. Namely, second line scoring, in that Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta have been virtually invisible when it comes to offence. Gionta is perhaps the most snake bitten player in the NHL this year, having scored only once on forty-four shots.
The question is, what now? Benoit Pouliot seems to have developed chemistry with Max Lapierre and Jeff Halpern, and Jacques Martin seems hesitant to pull him off the third line. Travis Moen has been working hard in his time on the Gomez-Gionta line, but he isn’t a long-term solution. And while Tom Pyatt is one of the faster players in the league, he doesn’t have the offensive instinct to last on a top line. Could the answer lie outside the roster?
Two players with numerous 20 goal seasons, and perhaps some gas left in the tank, remain free agents. Owen Nolan and Bill Guerin both want back into the NHL, eager to show they can still play. Guerin continues to train and wait for offers, while Nolan has headed to Europe to show scouts he can still compete. I mentioned in September that I felt Guerin would be a great fit with his former American teammates Gomez and Gionta. Given that things have not gone well, Pierre Gauthier must be looking at options. At 39 and 38 respectively, would Guerin or Nolan be a good complement for Gomez and Gionta on the second line?
Eight men, six spots
The other question around the Canadiens is defence, where two players are now healthy scratches game to game. While they play regularly, Jaroslav Spacek and Roman Hamrlik are not the players they used to be. Both are slow and have made costly mistakes over the first eleven games. Jaroslav Spacek has been especially disappointing in this campaign, recording only two assists thus far. For a player brought in to help with the power play in the summer of 2009, he has failed to contribute offensively when called upon.
Meanwhile, Alex Picard is now a healthy scratch, despite being +7 through 9 games. Ryan O’Byrne continues to be in the doghouse, having suited up just three times this season. Would it make sense to begin rotating these four, giving Picard and O’Byrne a chance to contribute? O’Byrne is still a young player, and he isn’t gaining any value sitting on the sidelines. While Picard may not get any better, he was fairly steady in his nine game audition, possessing one thing Spacek and Hamrlik don’t: speed. I must stress that Spacek and Hamrlik, Hamrlik especially, were good players, as recently as last season. But they just don’t seem to have anything left. Father time has caught up. Jacques Martin has some difficult decisions to make on defence.
Montreal has another day of rest, and then they are back at it against Columbus on Tuesday evening. Carey Price will be going for win number seven in this young season, and your Montreal Canadiens will enter November leading the East with 15 points. Not a bad start.
Thanks for all the suggestions last week on sweater names. I made the decision to go with Mr. Subban, although there were a lot of good ideas posted. I don’t think I can go wrong with Subban, he seems to get better every game. Here’s hoping his glory days in Montreal last at least a bit longer than Kovalev and Theodore did.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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