During the off-season, the Montreal Canadiens effectively swapped out their top line for another. And through three games of the regular season, it’s clear that GM Bob Gainey knew what he was doing when he said “adios” to Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev and Alex Tanguay, and effectively replaced them with Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri.
You may recall that Koivu, Tanguay and Kovalev were thrown together as a forward line late last season at a time when the Habs were desperately trying to secure a spot in the playoffs. They had some fine moments out there, but clearly not enough of them for Gainey to keep them together during this team’s very short post-season run. And all three were shown the door at the end of the season.
Enter Gomez via the trade route, and Cammalleri and Gionta and free agents. As reluctant as head coach Jacques Martin is to put all his eggs in one basket, these three are performing at their highest level when they’re getting the chance to play together, as they did last night in Calgary, in a 4-3 loss to the Flames. They figured on the scoresheet when ex-Flame Cammalleri did all the work to set up Gomez, who converted a one-timer past Mikka Kiprusoff. It was the first goal of the season for Gomez. Yes, Gionta was held off the scoresheet last night. But he has been the most consistent of the three, through the opening three games of the season.
It’s clear that Martin is going to have to keep Gomez, Cammalleri, and Gionta together. We’ve seen him try to share the wealth up front by having Cammalleri play with Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kotitsyn, while moving Max Pacioretty up to play with Gomez and Gionta. The move hasn’t worked. Particularly when it comes to P acioretty, who is clearly still trying to find his game. After a very ordinary training camp, Pacioiretty has been very ordinary through the first three games of the regular season. His fourth-line effort would be fine for a fourth-line player. But the Canadiens don’t need Max Pacioretty to be a fourth-line player. They need him to be a top-six forward.
It was, however, nice to see Tomas Plekanec put the puck in the net, although it was a rather lucky soft backhander that beat Mikka Kiprusoff. It would be nice to see Andrei Kostitsyn do the same and, in the process, show a little more spunk out there.
Speaking of fourth liners. Kyle Chipchura got a chance to suit up last night for the first time after sitting out the pre-season while recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. Chipchura lined up with Georges Laraque and Greg Stewart, and the three combined for a minus EIGHT effort. Which isn’t much of an effort, at all. The three watched third-period action from the sidelines, as coach Martin shortened his bench in an effort to find the equalizer in a third period which saw the Habs outshoot the Flames 15-5.
It was also a first for Yannick Weber, who was called up from Hamilton as a result of the injuries to Andrei Markov and Ryan O’Byrne. For the record, Weber finished with a zero plus-minus figure in almost 18 minutes of ice time. He looked a little nervous out there and had some skittish moments in the Canadiens’ zone, but he acquitted himself reasonably well. Did he acquit himself well enough to secure a spot on this blueline while Markov and O’Byrne continue to nurse their long-term injuries? It may be a moot point, following the acquisition of free-agent defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron yesterday. Bergeron was figuring he was in line for some big bucks as an unrestricted free agent after putting up some impressive numbers as a member of the Minnesota Wild last season, including 14 goals, seven of them on the power play.
However, a funny thing happened to Bergeron en-route to his big, free-agent pay day. The phone never rang. Up until yesterday, at least, when he agreed to a one-year deal for well under $1 million. A relative bargain, I’d say, and a pretty reasonable insurance policy.
So, while the Canadiens made their way to Vancouver for tonight’s game against the Canucks, Bergeron made his way to Hamilton for a conditioning stint with the Bulldogs. And Yannick Weber will get another chance to prove that he belongs in the National Hockey League, against the Canucks.
Personally, I’m rooting for the kid.