……When the Canadiens come up with one of their periodic “stinkers” the knee-jerk reaction among fans and certain segments of the media (read-sports talk radio) is, “Jacques Martin has lost the team”. After two-plus seasons we’re all familiar with Martin’s ‘read-and-react-system’. It requires all-out effort and intelligent team support to succeed. When that breaks down we get what we saw in Anaheim on Wednesday. The players returned to the Martin drawing board with outstanding road games against the Sharks and Kings. So much for the players quiting on their coach.
……That being said, Martin’s choices on the power play are a second guesser’s delight. After the power play ran it’s drought to 0-for-25, he finally gave up on the idea of using Tomas Plekanec on the point. Moved back up front against Los Angeles, Plekanec broke seven games of PP frustration. Now it’s Josh Gorges as a point man. Gorges has a total of nine goals in 294 games with the Canadiens, none of them on the power play. Go figure.
……When Scott Gomez returns. Louis Leblanc will inevitably be sent back to Hamilton. You could dub this the “Pacioretty Syndrome”. Last year Max Pacioretty was criticized by some for saying he was better off in Hamilton getting major minutes experience than playing on a Canadiens checking line. He was proven right. With the Bulldogs, Leblanc will get front line billing rather than six or seven minutes a game on the Canadiens fourth line. At 20, he still needs some muscle. Still, any doubts of his eventual value as a former Canadiens first round pick were erased this week.
……The arthroscopic procedure Andrei Markov will undergo this week in Florida will take him out of training for three weeks. That means the best probable return date is after the New Year, maybe the home game January 4th against Winnipeg. That would make it 104 regular season games and 393 days lost since he tore the knee up last November 13th.
…….Speaking of the numbers game, what about the defense? There’s no question that Raphael Diaz and Alexei Emelin are going to be an important future components. It’s the job of Pierre Gauthier to give Jacques Martin the best opportunity to win. The tough question, can Diaz and Emelin and maybe Yannick Weber give the team a better chance of winning than a returning Markov plus Jaroslav Spacek and Chris Campoli? We might see one or two veterans up on the trade block. Spacek, Campoli and the slowing Hal Gill will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. So will Josh Gorges, but trading him is a non-starter. The others, not so much.
…… I wonder what direction Lars Eller’s career is going to take. At this point in time, his game is closer to that of Bob Gainey than Jacques Lemaire. A la Gainey, Eller’s speed, play without the puck, work ethic and physical presence are exemplary. But, also like Gainey, Eller has not shown the instinct to find open ice and, in the NHL, without open ice you don’t get scoring chances. Eller has put together a string of twelve good games. He has one goal (of two on the season) but only 12 scoring chances. He’s a valuable asset, but without a net presence, Eller may not become the twenty goal scorer many of us thought he might eventually become. By the way, there’s nothing wrong with being a Bob Gainey clone.
……We can only hope that Michael Cammalleri’s troubled season hit bottom on Wednesday in Anaheim where he recorded no shots on goal and for the most part was uninvolved. Playing again with Desharnais and Cole, he was better against the Sharks and Kings. It’s still uphill to re-establish his reputation as a dependable goalscorer. Desharnais seemed to help him a lot.
…..Apparently nodody among the Canadiens coaching staff is as worried as some of the rest of us about the workload being placed on Tomas Plekanec. In the Anaheim and Los Angeles games last week, Plekanec logged a combined 41:13 of which more than half, 21:09 was special teams, 12:52 killing penaltes. He got a bit of a rest in San Jose when only two penalties were called.
……What is Yannick Weber’s future? He saw the ice only five times in Los Angeles and only once at even strength with Nokelainen and Darche. (rather than use Weber on Nokelainen’s right side, Martin variously slipped Cole, Kostitsyn and Leblanc). Among all of the young defensemen, Weber has had the most erratic season. Frederic St. Denis, who took his spot on defense was rewarded with 17 shifts in the game against the Kings mostly partnered with Hal Gill.