In our first installment of a two-part series, we’ll be looking at the four offensive lines that are most likely to suit up in time for puck drop October 7th.
The key word we've heard throughout opening week was core, used by players and administrative representatives alike. Considering that the nucleus remained intact throughout the off-season, the Canadiens look like they only have two or three rosters spots available for the taking.
As it usually always is during training camp, Jacques Martin and his staff will be in for some tough decisions given the amount of players currently signed to a one-way contract. Martin must match players that can both produce offensively together and play his system.
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Who’s on first?
Tomas Plekanec is surely to be first line center after the Canadiens responded to his stellar play by offering him a 6 year $30 million contract. The Czech had a career year, posting up 70 points in the regular season and adding 11 more in the playoffs.
There is no doubt that the turtleneck aficionado will be joined by Michael Cammalleri on his right wing, as separating Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez would be committing a felony of chemical proportions. Having a healthy Cammalleri will surely help the Canadiens improve on their meager 217 goal haul from the last campaign.
Now that our first line is two-thirds of the way there, the big question mark remains at left wing. Can Andrei Kostitsyn stay healthy and rebound from last season’s abysmal performance? After seeing one of the ‘’K Brothers’’ exit the island on a one way flight to music city, we can’t deny the fact that AK-46 is skating on very thin ice.
Second coming of the EGG line
As mentioned before, breaking up Gionta and Gomez would not be Coach Martin’s best move as the veterans embark on their 9th season as teammates. With Gionta being named captain (reported but not confirmed as of publishing), perhaps he can provide motivation for whoever it is that joins him and ‘’G-Love’’ at left wing.
After being acquired from Minnesota, 2005 top ten selection Benoit Pouliot went on a run that saw him tally 24 points in 39 games. The Alfred, Ontario native often saw playing time with the former Stanley Cup winners and the trio looked like it was clicking. Until the playoffs saw Pouliot obtain a mediocre two assists in 18 games played. Just like Andrei Kostitsyn, the 23 year old is another big question mark leading into the season.
If the first combination doesn't pan out for Martin, there’s always newly obtained Lars Eller. Who’s slick hands and size would compliment well with Gionta’s finishing touch and Gomez’s passing abilities. Even though he has spent most of his career at center, I personally think that EGG Line 2.0 could work.
Where things get complicated for Eller is that his NHL experience is very limited. He will also be under an extreme amount of scrutiny given that GM Pierre Gauthier traded Jaroslav Halak to acquire him. All signs point to the young Dane having to use some good ol’ Scandinavian cold blood if he wishes to survive in his first season with the Sainte-Flanelle.
Mixing and matching
With the addition of Dominic Moore before the trade deadline last season, the Habs suddenly had a little bit more scoring by players that weren't the usual suspects. The Canadiens added underachieving Dustin Boyd to the lineup via the trade market and Jeff Halpern as a late free agent addition. This is where Martin has a lot to work with depending on which route he wants to take with lines three and four.
Given the fact that Boyd isn't exactly the most offensively talented forward in the lineup perhaps placing him with someone who has Mathieu Darche’s offensive instincts is the way to go. Add Maxim Lapierre on his right wing (or center as Boyd can also play wing) and you have a hard working third line that can produce points when necessary.
Jeff Halpern will serve primarily as a defensive forward, thus automatically punching his ticket to the fourth line. Pairing him with Tom Pyatt wouldn't exactly be a bad idea, we saw great things from the Thunder Bay native in the playoffs and Halpern could take him under his wing. Look for Travis Moen to add some grit to this trio that could potentially be very hard to play against.
Martin has the luxury of having sound veterans and young Bulldogs that he can actively swap in and out of the line up when need be. This is definitely more of a gift than it is a curse.
The best of the rest
Max Pacioretty is entering his third season as a Hab this year and the time is now for the University of Michigan product. With fellow Wolverine teammate Aaron Palushaj looking very impressive during Rookie Camp, Pacioretty must demonstrate his offensive prowess if he wishes to continue wearing the red, white and blue.
Other call-ups this season should be Ryan White, Ben Maxwell and David Desharnais who will mostly serve as injury replacements.
Ian Schultz who was also obtained from the Halak deal, has stated that he would like to be in a Habs uniform as quickly as possible. Younger brother of Washington Capitals D-man Jeff Schultz, Ian will likely join former Calgary Hitmen forward Ryan White in Hamilton.
Stay tuned for part two of the series which will take a look at the probable defensive pairings, power play mainstays and penalty kill specialists.