Max Pacioretty: Injury Sheds Light on the Montreal Canadiens' Weakness at Wing
Max Pacioretty's injury has left a massive void on the Canadiens roster. Throughout last night's lackluster effort against the St. Louis Blues, Jacques Martin threw a number of players on Gomez's left wing, waiting for someone to emerge as a capable top six forward.
He started the game by giving Benoit Pouliot the job, a pretty logical choice when you think about it. The man has great speed, he's big, he's got a heavy shot and has shown some chemistry playing with Gomez and Gionta. It didn't work. He didn't last through the first period.
With Pouliot demoted, Martin decided to give Andrei Kostitsyn a chance. Like Pouliot, Kostitsyn has blazing speed. He's a physical specimen and has one of the most lethal shots in league. Kostitsyn has also shown that he can completely dominate a game with his offensive abilities. Not last night.
After these two failed experiments, the team's options at wing don't seem to get any better. In fact, if you start to look at the organization's depth at the wing position, there doesn't seem to be any help coming anytime soon.
The team currently has two bona fide top six wingers. Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta have both shown to be proven goal scorers and game breakers. Both are relatively young (28 and 32 respectively), having at least 4-5 years left in the tank.
Max Pacioretty had begun to emerge as a permanent fixture on the team's top lines, but his future has been put into question at this point. No one has to be reminded of Richard Zednik's career progression after Kyle McLeran's devastating assault.
As previously mentioned, Benoit Pouliot and Andrei Kostitsyn have both sown flashes of brilliance, but with their history of inconsistency, their future with the organization is about as solid Jose Theodore's five-hole. Aside from the above mentioned players, the team is rounded out with primarily defensive forwards, such as Tom Pyatt, Travis Moen and Ryan White.
If you're thinking that there could be help coming from the AHL, don't hold your breath. There are currently only two wingers on the Hamilton Bulldogs that could potentially crack a top six roster spot. Aaron Palushaj is having a decent year in the AHL with 40 points in 54 games. He's been incredibly streaky however, and has only picked up his scoring pace once the team's stronger forwards (Pacioretty and Desharnais) were called up to the big club.
The increased scoring could be due more to being the only option on the top line and first power-play unit than actual talent (think Alexei Ponikarovsky). Alex Avtisin has also shown signs of being extremely talented, but at this point, being mired in a difficult rookie year, it's too early to tell if he can adjust to the North American game.
Outside of the AHL, only Danny Kristo and Brendan Gallagher jump off the page. Unfortunately, both players are on the small side, and will likely take 3-4 years before they're ready for the NHL. It's also worth noting that Danny Kristo's recent foot ailment may stall his progression.
At one point, the team was notoriously weak up the middle. Within a year, the team was able to pick up Lars Eller, David Desharnais and Louis Leblanc to support the likes of Plekanec and Gomez. Here's to hoping that Gauthier can restock the cupboards that quickly once again.
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