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Who will step up?

  • One thing is clear as the Canadiens head into a new NHL season this fall: in order for the Habs to make another deep post-season run, it is critical that the young players on the team emerge as capable support for the big-money earning foursome of Gomez, Gionta, Cammalleri, and Plekanec. While its entirely fair to expect that those who make the money produce, in order to win in the NHL – you need a contribution throughout your lineup. Last season those four players previously mentioned combined to lead the team in points – even though Gionta and Cammalleri played only 61 and 65 games respectively.

    The big four were brought in to lead the team – but they’re going to need some help if the Canadiens are going to be anything more than a middle of the pack team. The question is: who among the forwards will be the guy to make the leap forward?

    We’ve all waited in agony while Andrei Kostitsyn took 1 step forward and 2 steps back during the past couple of seasons. The enigmatic sniper can be very dangerous when his game is on – but exactly when that will happen – I’m not convinced even Andrei knows.  Everyone has heard about which players the Habs missed in order to select Andrei with the 10th over-all pick in 2003. I won’t get into that.. But I will say that since he signed his contract following the 07-08 season in which he amassed 53 points in 72 games , there has been a lot of waiting, and not much return. His 33 points in 59 games came in bunches, frustrating fans as he scored just often enough, to perpetuate the optimism that his break out was eminent.  We’ll see what happens this year. If he can stay healthy he has the tools to put up good numbers – but in the eyes of most Habs fans – he already has one foot out the door.

    Benoit Pouliot was a revelation when he come over in a mid-season trade from the Minnesota Wild for fellow under-performer Guillaume Latendresse. In 39 regular season games with the Canadiens Benny scored 24 points (15 goals) which would have been a positive story going into his first full year with the club if he had not disappeared entirely in the playoffs – scoring only 2 points in 18 games. Pouliot has the size and skills to make an impact on the top 6. The question is, does he have the drive to do the things he has to do to be a top tier forward in the NHL?

    Lars Eller came to the Canadiens via the Jaroslav Halak deal and while there is always an abundance of optimism for young players wearing Habs sweaters – there is an added sense of urgency surrounding Eller’s debut. The fact that he was the major cog in the trade that sent the Canadiens’ playoff hero packing makes for added pressure considering Eller has only a handful of games at the NHL level. He does have the tools to be a good NHLer though. The 21 year old Dane was drafted 13th overall by the Blues in 2007, scoring 57 points in 70 games in Peoria of the AHL. Those are good numbers for a young player, but the real test for Lars will come when he is called upon at some point during the season to fill into the top 6. At 6’1 200 he has the size to be effective. Still, for a guy who has played 7 NHL games, the Habs are asking a lot which will add a whole lot of pressure to his 2010-11 season.

    Maxime Lapierre will never be confused with the upper-echelon of NHL goal scorers, but as a 25 year old with ample size, he does have a place on this team if he can play more like the Max from the playoffs and less like the Max from the regular season. His underwhelming 14 points in 76 games were not blown away by his 4 points in 19 playoff games, but Max re-found his abilities as a super-pest who will doggedly eat up minutes with an aggressive forcheck, win faceoffs when called upon and provide puck possession with his ability on the cycle game. I would never put Max in the top 6, but from a “this guy needs to step up” perspective – Lapierre fits the bill. He’s no longer a young guy. I love him when he’s playing big but the Habs have simply too many guys coming up to have passengers this year.

    There is no doubt in my mind that PK Subban will be the biggest addition to the team this season. And while the spark he gives us should produce points, he will need one of his young brethren to make a similar jump in production. No doubt there are other guys who could potentially see time in the top 6: Alexander Avtsin, Max Pacioretti, Ryan White, David Desharnais, Matt Darche and Ben Maxwell could all get a look. Who is going to be the one to do it? Or are we doomed to another year of watching the “big 4″ create every single offensive chance?

  1. #1 Senet1 says:
    August 30, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    Well Matts I have to agree with what you are saying, about the supporting cast we need scoring through out the line up. Here is what I expect.

    1. PK will provide some added offence, but I am concerned that he tries to do too much while Markov is out injured.
    2. I expect AK46 to produce now that he does not have his kid brother to worry about. If not he is trade bait.
    3. Pouliot has to show that he belongs in the NHL otherwise demotion or trade has to be considered.
    Our top four need to be 75 to 80 game players, they need to stay healthy for us to make the playoffs.
    4. Eller could be the missing link to our top six and will probably get a chance if AK or Pouliot slip.
    5. Our defence could be average to good depending on how long Markov is out and if our elder defenceman can provide the steady leadership and support for Obryne, Pk and Gorges. We have to live and die with Obryne this year. Spakec, Gill and Hammer need to play less than 20 minutes in order to help the team.

    Price I believe will provide the steady goaltending we need but who will be his backup and what can we expect for that player?

  2. #2 Mats Naslund says:
    September 1, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Alex Auld will most definitely be a serviceable backup for Price. I don’t expect magic like the season he stepped in for an injured Luongo – but the guy has a track record of solid goaltending.

    There was a great comment over at HIO today that really laid out the goaltending situation. The Habs scored more than 3 goals on 39 occasions last year. We also won 39 games last season. While the wins didn’t all come in 3+ goal games, its pretty telling that scoring 3 goals or more was critical to our success. Unsurprisingly, Halak had 3+ goals 26 times and Price 13 times. It comes as no further shock to learn Halak won 26 games and Price 13.

    The key to our success this year will hinge on our ability to light the lamps consistently. Our defense and goaltending will do the rest.

  3. Mats that is an interesting stat. I remember a post that I made basically saying the same thing but without the stats. It was the exact reasons by Price struggled. He stood on his head many games only to loose 2-1 because we did not score for him. I think he felt that the team was not playing for him. Personally, I think Markov’s rant did not help the situation for the team. As a team leader, I think he should have taken Price aside and told him privately his feelings rather than having them publized all across the world especially habs land. On the other hand I think it helped Price mature and accept his faith come playoff time. If we can just get this contract settled so he can get back to playing hockey.

  4. Alexander Avtsin was the best forward in the rookie player scrimages. I would have to say he is NHL ready. Why is no one noticing this guy????

  5. It is not that they are not noticing him, in fact management have high hopes for him. But Management also knows that they rushed Latendresse, Pacioritti and Sergie and now two of the three are no longer with us, not because they are not good players but they needed more time to adevelop both skill wise but also maturity. Avtin needs some time to adjusted to the North American rinks, as well as the NA game. If he adjusts well in the AHL then he will be up with the habs after X-Mas and if we have injuries maybe before.

  6. Sergei was not rushed. The season that the Canadiens brought up Sergei around new year the team started winning, Andrei started scoring, and the line he played on was scoring. The only thing I agree with is he could develop to be a better player over time. The Canadiens finished 1st that season in part due to the call up of Sergei. Under JM Sergei was force to play a very defensive style as the 3rd & 4th line forward staying back to help the defence. At the end of last season when the Canadiens went on a winning streak it was the Moen/Moore/S.Kostitsyn line which was the only 3rd and 4th line combo that clicked and helped the Canadiens on there winning streaks.
    Latendresse flourished under Carbonneau for a rookie. The problem with Latendresse was his lack of speed and back checking ability which the Canadiens emphasize. Latendresse was just like Ryder. Not good in the corners, not good defensively, lack of speed, need to be paired with better players to excel, no prospect of any of the weaknesses getting better.
    Pacioretty is still very young. He did well under Carbonneau as a defensive forward due to his speed & size. I agree he needs to be in Hamilton in order to develop his offensive skills and overall skills. Only in Hamilton will he get the ice time and training to be NHL ready. I agree that in Montreal Pacioretty sat on the bench too much and should have been sent down to Hamilton to get ice time.

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