Habs fans hoping for perhaps a final glimpse of Max Pacioretty in game action were disappointed as the Canadiens closed out pre-season play last night at the Bell Center with a 3-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild.
After the morning skate, head coach Guy Carbonneau announced that Pacioretty, who had survived the first two rounds of cuts to earn a trip to Mount Tremblant for the team’s weekend bonding session, would not be in the lineup against the Wild. Pacioretty, the 19-year-old from Connecticut, had made a strong case for himself with an impressive training-camp showing. But there would be no number 67 on the ice against the Wild.
Too bad. The Habs could have used him.
With visions of an October 10th regular-season-opening date in Buffalo against the Sabres clearly dancing in the heads, the Canadiens simply went through the motions last night against the Wild, failing to generate any goals, or many quality scoring chances. They did direct 46 shots at Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom. Unfortunately for the Canadiens, only 25 of them hit the net.
Yannick Weber, the young Swiss defenceman, did get a chance to suit up. But that’s only because of ongoing injury problems that left Andrei Markov, Francis Boullion, and Ryan O’Byrne on the sidelines. Of the three, the injury to Boullion is clearly the most troubling to the Habs. The popular rearguard will not be ready to answer the bell for the regular season.
As for Weber, for the record, he saw 18:32 of ice time last night and finished a minus one. The owner of a wicked shot, Weber, down the road, could be the missing link on the point on the power play. But for now, look for The Coach to slot any number of forwards into that position with Sergie Kostitsyn showing the most promise.
By the end of the night, Pacioretty, Weber, and goalie Marc Denis were on their way to the team’s American Hockey League farm team in Hamilton. With the three cuts, the Canadiens are left with a 26-man roster; a roster that includes a number of injured players, including Georges Laraque, who has yet to see game action as one of the newest Habs. Mind you, there was a flurry of excitement in the Canadiens locker room following the morning skate yesterday. There was Laraque at his stall, putting on a Canadiens’ uniform. On his feet however, were a pair of running shoes.
It was merely for a photo shoot.
Whether Laraque is able to complete the look with a pair of skates, in time for the team’s season opener in Buffalo, remains to be seen.
On a wind-swept day in the Laurentian mountains, Montreal Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey held court just outside the St. Jovite arena while, inside, the Habs were putting the finishing touches on two days’ worth of scrimmages. It was then that the Canadiens’ GM casually disclosed that the team had agreed to a contract extension with head coach Guy Carbonneau.
No news conference. No formal announcement. Which suited the coach just fine.
“I don’t believe having a press conference to announce that the coach has signed a contract,” said Carbonneau after practice. “I’m just happy when Bob approached me this summer that he wanted to get something done before the start of the season.”
Although neither Gainey nor Carbonneau would announce the terms of the deal, the phrase “three-year extension” crept into Carbo’s conversation, if somewhat cryptically, when he talked of what the new deal meant to him.
“The extension isn’t going to change my style…feel maybe a little bit more comfortable, maybe. But I’ve seen about eight coaches last year get fired with contracts in their hands, so, I’m going to keep on working.”
Carbonneau has been working at it behind the bench since May 5, 2006, when he took over as head coach of this club after initially joining the team in January of that year as an associate coach. In two full seasons running the show, Carbonneau’s Canadiens are 89-59-16. This season, after acquiring the likes to Alex Tanguay, Robert Lang and Georges Laraque, the Canadiens are serious Cup contenders. However, Gainey is hesitant to go down that road in his assessment of this team.
“We all want to win the Stanley Cup,” said Gainey. “But it’s like asking me how I’ll feel at the 26th mile of a marathon. You’ve got to get there. You can’t sprain an ankle. You can’t get dehydrated. You have to get there.”
Before the Canadiens can “get there,” there must first take to the ice for tomorrow night’s final pre-season game at the Bell Centre against the Minnesota Wild. Then, the final cuts must come as the team gets to the 23-man roster limit. With youngsters Max Pachioretty and Yannik Weber still in camp, there is much speculation that one, if not both, might still be with the team by the end of the weekend. Although injuries could come into play, especially with Francis Bouillon expected to miss the first week of regular-season action and Georges Laraque nursing a sore groin that has kept him out of the entire pre-season slate, it would appear that Gainey has made up his mind about the two aforementioned young men.
“Whether it’s Pachioretty or Weber, with those very young players it’s what’s best for their growth, what’s going to make them get to the NHL quickly, but prepared and ready,” explained Gainey. “And it isn’t just getting here quickly that’s the answer.”
Gainey went on to use the example of Sergei Kostitsyn of one year ago.
“When he got here (from Hamilton), he was a producer. He added to our team.”
The GM says there is a lot to learn in the minors. “It’s a learning experience that not everybody needs, but I don’t really see how it can be negative for anybody.”
If you read between the lines, as of this moment, Pachioretty and Weber are ticketed to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League.
And speaking of lines, there they were at the St. Jovite arena for today’s session:
Laraque? There will be a spot for him when the puck drops on the regular season. Pachioretty and Weber? They were on the ice today, but, barring injuries, don’t look for them to be on the ice when the Canadiens do it for real Friday night in Buffalo, against the Sabres.
Defenceman Yannick Weber and forwards Max Pacioretty and Ben Maxwell were among the players to survive the first-round of cuts as the Montreal Canadiens sent a total of 18 players packing this morning.
PK Subban and Olivier Fortier were sent to their respective junior teams, while the following players have been ticketed to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League:
Goalies Cedrick Desjardins and Loic Lacasse, defencemen Paval Valentenko, Shawn Belle, and Chad Anderson, as well as forwards Brock Trotter, Ryan White, James Wyman, Mike Glumac, Olivier Latendresse, Yanick Lehoux, Ryan Flinn, Mathieu Aubin, Ryan Russell, David Desharnais and Thomas Beauregard.
The chances of Weber, Pacioretty or Maxwell sticking the big team once the Canadiens close out pre-season play Saturday when the Minnesota Wild come to town are slim. The chances that perhaps all three might be invited to join the Big Club for the two-day bonding session at Mont Tremblant this Thursday and Friday are somewhat better. Management could make the decision to reward the three for their solid play (so far) by extending an invitation.
It would be well deserved.
Although Pacioretty looked tired in Saturday’s 3-1 loss in Ottawa (he didn’t play in last night’s 3-2 shootout win over the Panthers at the Bell Centre), the young man has had himself a very solid training camp and pre-season. Although only 19, that 6-2, 200-pound frame of his fills out his jersey number 67 nicely. He has a very solid presence on the ice, and is clearly beginning to live up to his billing as a power forward.
The slick Maxwell has battled injury problems in recent seasons, but the 2006 draft pick, who was impressive at training camp last year, has been even more impressive this time around.
But it’s young Yannick Weber who is really giving Canadiens‘ management something to chew on, with three pre-season games remaining. Weber, a gifted offensive defenceman who lit it up with Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League last season (20 goals, 35 assists in 57 games), notched his second goal of the pre-season last night: a terrific shot from the faceoff circle to beat Tomas Vokoun on the power play. A stocky 5-10, 194 pounds, nobody is going to confuse Weber with, say, Mike Komisarek. But the native of Switzerland is a smooth skater, crisp passer, and the owner of a deadly shot from the point: like fellow Swiss star Mark Streit, who left the Canadiens at the end of last season for the greener pastures of unrestricted free agency.
Yannick Weber is an upgrade over Mark Streit, certainly in terms of defensive talent. However, whether or not he’s enough of an upgrade to steal a spot along the Canadiens blueline, is doubtful. One thing that Streit had going for him in Montreal was his versatility which saw head coach Guy Carbonneau use him up front, more often than not.
We’ve seen what Weber is capable of along the blueline. Apparently he has some pretty good moves in the kitchen, as well. Claims he’s a pretty good cook. And he’s certainly added something to the Canadiens‘ training-camp menu.
Georges Laraque will have to wait for another day to make his debut with the Montreal Canadiens.
Both Laraque and Team Captain Saku Koivu were kept off skates today as the Canadiens wrapped up two days of workouts in Pierrefonds with a practice session and a full scrimmage. Neither will make the trip to Halifax for tomorrow’s pre-season opener against the Bruins; the jaunt to Roberval for Tuesday’s game against the Sabres; nor the flight to Detroit for Wednesday’s contest against the Red Wings.
Which leaves Friday’s exhibition game against Ottawa at the Bell Centre as a likely start date for both — provided they are ready to go at that time.
Laraque is nursing a sore groin, while Koivu is being kept off skates as a precautionary measure. The Captain did put in a full day at the office yesterday in Pierrefonds, but the coaching staff isn’t taking any chances with Koivu‘s tender right foot, which he hurt a couple of weeks ago while working out in Finland.
As a result, head coach Guy Carbonneau is going to tweak his lineup for tomorrow night and replace Laraque with Mathieu Dandenault on a line with Maxim Lapierre and Steve Begin. Look for both Dandenault and Begin to be pushed hard for ice time as fourth-liners by some of the rookies who are looking to make a mark with this club during the pre-season. Among them: Max Paccioretty, Ben Maxwell and Brock Trotter. All three were impressive in today’s scrimmage. So were youngsters Yannick Weber and PK Subban along the blueline.
The same can’t be said of Kyle Chipchura, who looked lost out there, and was on the receiving end of a big hit thrown by Begin.
The rest of the key forward lines that we will likely see tomorrow night (and likely against the Sabres the following night) were the lines we saw in today’s scrimmage: the Kostitsyn brothers will Tomas Plekanec; and Alex Tanguay with Maxwell and Pacioretty. The following will see action on the blueline: Hamlik, O’Byrne, Gorges, Valentenko, Weber, Anderson and Henry. Jaroslav Halak and Marc Denis will share the goaltending duties, with Halak to start against the Bruins.
A number of players look to be in mid-season form, including Christopher Higgins, Alex Kovalev (who dazzled the crowd with a number of his patented moves), Mike Komisarek and Andrei Markov. There was some, not a lot, of magic between linemates Kovalev and Robert Lang. Guillaume Latendresse did not look out of place as the third on that forward line.
After a grand total of one scrimmage, this bold prediction as to what the Coach’s starting lines will look like heading into the regular season:
A. Kostitsyn-S. Kostitsyn-Plekanec
Dark horses to make this team: Max Pacioretty and Yannick Webber.