81-Lars EllerThe best thing to happen to Lars Eller on the path to becoming a Canadiens front-line forward is probably the improved play of Carey Price.

 If Price’s season had started on the wrong foot, a segment of  fans, in their relentless search for someone to bully, would have added Eller to their hate-list as “punishment” for being the one for whom Jaroslav Halak was traded.

That said; if Eller thinks the reputation of Montreal fans is unreasonable, coach Jacques Martin can be an even tougher critic.  With Martin, there is no silver platter.   Rookie growing pains might be noted, but seldom are they forgiven. 

Eller’s growing pains manifested themselves Saturday night against Ottawa and he found himself nailed to the bench, for cause, after being singled out for the Senators first two goals.

It was obvious to Jacques Martin that Eller was taking the night off.  Rookie or veteran, that simply doesn’t cut it in the coach’s playbook.

Eller saw the ice for the last time at 10:20 of the second period after only seven shifts in which he was minus-2 with one shot on goal.

On the Senators first goal, Eller failed to come back hard on a turnover in the Canadiens end and his check, Milan Michalek, was left alone in front of Price to collect the Daniel Alfredsson rebound.  The Senators made it 2-1 when Eller missed two neutral zone checks on the right side and defenceman Erik Karlson was left uncovered at the other point.

Was Martin supposed  turn a blind eye? Not likely.  It’s called “responsibility”.   Eller was benched..

In some quarters Martin has been criticized for being too critical of young players.  Martin would call it “tough love”.  In his post game news conference, Martin made it clear he respects Eller’s ability and potential.  Without stating it, he was saying that there is no such thing as a rookie free pass when it comes to affecting the outcome of a game. Ice time is earned. 

Hard lesson? Sure. And embarassing in a game in which he was playing against boyhood hero Daniel Alfredsson and fellow Dane Peter Regin. 

As it turned out veteran Travis Moen, who started the game with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta, was moved back to the line with Jeff Halpern and Maxim Lapierre. Moen drew an assist when Halpern started the Canadiens successful comeback late in the second period. Chalk one up for the coach.  

And for the rookie, another hard lesson. It won’t be the last. This one was about never taking a night off in the NHL.

You can’t.  Ever.