After a stretch of five games in five nights, the Montreal Canadiens will go into game six of their seven-game pre-season slate Thursday night at the Bell Centre against the Boston Bruins, with a much slimmer roster.
That’s because, prior to the 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins Monday night, the Canadiens announced that 17 players had been sent to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League, including prize prospect PK Subban, who played a grand total of one shift in his first and only game of the pre-season, against the Florida Panthers, when he suffered a sprained right ankle. Although Subban finished the game, he realized, in hindsight, it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do. As a result, Subban never really had much of an opportunity to impress the Habs’ brass, and will begin his professional career as a member of the Bulldogs.
Subban will be back. This season, is my prediction.
In the meantime, head coach Jacques Martin is left with 31 players in camp, with two more cuts coming following the game against the Penguins in the form of defenceman Shawn Belle and tough-guy forward Eric Neilson. That would suggest the Martin still has some significant chopping to do before he gets down to his 23-man roster. However, the growing list of players currently in sick bay could change all that.
The latest to go down was Max Pacioretty, who lined up with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta (Montreal’s best forward through five pre-season games) for two periods. Pacioretty was unable to answer the bell for the third period as a result of an upper-body injury, which is thought to be minor in nature. As a result, Martin moved Mike Cammalleri in to play with Gionta and Gomez. And the move paid instant dividends.
Habs’ fans lusting to see a line of Gionta-Gomez-Cammalleri are likely to be disappointed, however, when the puck drops on the regular season October 1st in Toronto. Coach Martin’s philosophy when it comes to putting together his line combinations is this: go with two guys who have the right chemistry and rotate the third player on that line. Which would suggest to me, based on the history that these two guys had together in New Jersey, that we’ll see Gionta and Gomez on a line with a rotating winger.
That winger could be Pacioretty, as was the case for the first two periods Monday against the Penguins. However, quite frankly, I haven’t been terribly impressed with the play of Pacioretty so far. He raised a ton of eyebrows at training camp last season, fresh off his college days at the University of Michigan. One year later, he just doesn’t seem to be that power forward in the making that the Canadiens hope they have on their hands.
But it’s early yet.
It may also be too early to get down on Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec, but, for the record, I’m down on both players. They look lost out there. And that’s a bad thing. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Gionta, Gomez and Cammalleri will be just fine as members of the Montreal Canadiens, regardless of who they line up with. I am much more concerned with the likes of Kostitsyn and Plekanec. Both players have had their heads in the clouds for much of this pre-season. And if the Canadiens’ are going to have any kind of second line, those two have to get it in gear.
Some other players who have caught my eye, for better or for worse, through five pre-season games: Guillaume Latendresse, Maxime Lapierre and Mat D’agostini, for their good work together when given the chance to play as a three-some.
Travis Moen? Not too impressed with what I’ve seen of him, so far.
Jaroslav Spacek? Just what the doctor ordered for this Canadiens’ team that has been dieing for a power play quarterback along the blueline. Then again, Yannick Weber could also fill that bill. Weber has looked very comfortable out there and seems to have upped his defensive game.
Carey Price? He didn’t look like much of an all-star on the three goals he gave up in the 4-3 win over Pittsburgh. But, like I said, it’s early yet. Which is exactly what Scott Gomez was busy telling anyone who would listen after the line of Gomez-Gionta-Cammalleri combined for five points against the Penguins, including two goals by Gionta and a single by Gomez.
It’s early yet.