Kukla's Korner

Kukla's Korner Hockey

Markov returns, second line sputters, questions linger

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.

Sweater naming

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.

Filed in: NHL Teams, Montreal Canadiens, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: alex+picard, brian+gionta, jaroslav+spacek, roman+hamrlik, scott+gomez

Comments

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Hamrlik comes off the books at the end of the year, but Spacek is signed through to the end of next season. I wonder if they’re slow because of age, or because they haven’t hit their stride yet…

And while they haven’t been great, can you take a chance on younger guys when the team is obviously playing well? It’s a hard position for Martin to be in. I’d sit both Hamrlik and Spacek for a game and see how they respond. Picard and O’Byrne may also react well to added ice time, and that could make the coach’s decision much easier.

As for second line scoring, just give it time. Gionta and Gomez are veterans and will come out of their early-season funk. I would normally say that adding a big body presence to the line would help to create space for those two, but Moen is a big body, That being said, he’s not a second line calibre player. Someone like Guerin could fill that void, but I’m not sure he’s good for second line minutes at this stage in his career. He could easily get burned out by season’s end. Tough call any way you look at it.

Posted by Briney on 11/01/10 at 01:30 PM ET

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Word tonight that Spacek is likely a healthy scratch tomorrow. He’s quickly becoming Janne Niinimaa version 2.0. Picard appears to be the guy going in. And it sounds like status quo for Gomez and Gionta - but they really need to get going. The team won’t keep winning without any second line scoring.

Posted by The Upper Canadien from Toronto on 11/02/10 at 12:07 AM ET

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I’d say go after both Guerin and Nolan. There age is of no importance because this team isn’t rebuilding or contending. Both those players would add a physical element that is sadly missing. Nolan would look good on the 3rd line, pushing Halpern to the 4th line which is exactly where he belongs. Jacques Martin is stuck with this roster and most, if not all, of the blame resides on Gainey. The fact this guy is getting away from this mess is a joke. His term was a disaster and is a sad footnote to his contribution to this organization.

Posted by BlackXinu on 11/02/10 at 09:19 PM ET

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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.

From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.

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