Look for Canadiens’ head coach Jacques Martin to formally put all of his eggs in one basket tomorrow night when Alex Kovalev and the Ottawa Senators come to town, if today’s skate is any indication.
Try as he might to share the scoring wealth, Martin loaded up his first line at practice today when he had Scott Gomez skating with Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta. As we’ve seen on more than one occasion this season, the Coach has split up his “sometimes” top line, until the going gets tough. And with four straight losses under their belts, the going has been getting plenty tough since the team opened the season with back-to-back wins.
Last night’s pattern was a familiar one as the Habs hosted the Colorado Avalanche in their home opener. Gomez and Gionta started the night playing with Travis Moen, while Cammalleri kicked off the proceedings skating with Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn. By the time the third period rolled around, the law firm of Gomez, Gionta and Cammalleri was back together again as a result of the club’s ongoing inability to put the puck in the net.
It was 2-1 Colorado after two, when Martin put the three newcomers back together again. Interesting though that, this time, the move benefitted Plekanec and Kostitsyn the most. With Max Pacioretty the third on that line, Plekanec converted a perfect pass from Kostitsyn to beat Craig Anderson midway through the third period to tie the game at 2-2, with Pacioretty getting the other assist. However, the Avs won it on a goal by Ryan O’Reilly with less than seven minutes to play, picking up his own rebound and beating Carey Price.
We’ve seen a tremendous amount of line juggling by the Coach through the opening six games of the season as he continues to look for productive combinations up front. After practice today, Martin called it a “process.” In the past, he’s called it an “experiment.” Either way, Martin is desperately trying to squeeze more production out of a hockey team that has scored but 14 goals in six games.
The fact that Kostitsyn and Plekanec combined to put the puck in the net last night was the good news. Kostitsyn had his best game of the season against the Avalanche, which isn’t saying a whole lot, but it’s a step in the right direction. The goal by Plekanec was his 2nd of the season, and Montreal’s 2nd-line centreman has given us every indication, so far, that he’s prepared to do the work he wasn’t prepared to do last season.
Now, let’s move on, shall we?
The fact Plekanec was the only forward who managed to beat Anderson last night, with defenceman Roman Hamrlik getting the other Montreal goal, was the bad news. Truth be told, with all the talent Gomez, Gionta and Cammalleri possess, the three have combined for a grand total of four goals. And Brian Gionta has three of them. Scott Gomez has the other. Which, if you do the math, leaves you with Mike Cammalleri still looking for his first of the season. He’ll get that chance tomorrow night, and it looks like he’ll get that chance on a line with Gomez and Gionta against Kovalev and the Sens.
This will be Kovalev’s first trip to the Bell Centre since he left town as an unrestricted free agent to sign on the dotted line with the Ottawa Senators. It’s well documented that Kovalev wanted to return to the Habs and suggested, during an off-season stop in Montreal for charity golf tournament, that he could see himself returning to the Habs and retiring as a member of the Canadiens. The comments did not sit well in Ottawa. Kovalev hadn’t even played a single game in a Senators uniform, and he was already talking about the possibility of coming back to Montreal.
Well, Kovalev is indeed coming back to Montreal tomorrow night, after having scored his 2nd of the season in Ottawa’s 7-1 victory over Tampa Bay last night. My guess is that number 27 will initially get a rousing welcome by hockey fans who both loved and despised the mercurial Russian during his five-year stay in this city. But once he touches the puck, the boo birds will be out in full force.