MONTREAL – A six-day break this early in the NHL season had Montreal Canadiens defenceman Mike Komisarek feeling antsy.
“The guys enjoy coming to the rink and being around each other, but at a certain point, a guy like me just wants to lay into someone other than my teammates,” the six-foot-four rearguard said Thursday. “That competitive blood starts flowing and you just want to compete and play.
“It gets pretty boring, but we have plenty of games coming up.”
The Canadiens have not played since their 5-4 win on a four-goal third-period comeback on Saturday against the Islanders in New York, but after a day off, a day of work in the gym and three days of practice, the schedule will get busy again.
They play Friday night in Columbus with backup Jaroslav Halak in goal and on Saturday night in Toronto with Carey Price in the net.
Every team likes a break, but not after only 10 games. Especially when they are as hot as the Canadiens, who opened the season on an 8-1-1 tear.
“I know the rest is always good,” said coach Guy Carbonneau. “It gave us time to make sure that everyone’s healthy, but you’re always afraid that you’re going to lose your touch and timing around the net, especially when things are going well.
“It gave us a chance to reflect on what we’ve done; things we need to work on, things we did right, things we did bad. But talking is different from playing on the ice. Two games in two nights, I think it will be good for us.”
Two lines in particular need game action to work on their chemistry.
In their last game, winger Christopher Higgins was reunited with centre Saku Koivu, his linemate for most of the last three seasons, on a trio with newcomer Alex Tanguay. Guillaume Latendresse was dropped off that line onto one with Robert Lang and Sergei Kostitsyn.
“Obviously, I feel very comfortable playing with Saku,” said Higgins. “And watching Alex play, there are a lot of things he does well that I didn’t know about, such as forechecking and his pursuit of the puck.
“It’s something Saku and I try to do – stay on people and try to make them turn the puck over. Alex does that really well.”
Higgins missed the first six games of the season with a groin injury and said he wanted to continue playing games every other night to help regain his form.
The top line of Tomas Plekanec with Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn ended a slump with a combined 10 points against the Islanders.
Koivu and Tanguay, each with 11 points, have been Montreal’s most consistent combination since the start of the season.
The third line has its question marks, although Lang has been solid at centre.
Latendresse had six points in his first five games, then had only one in the next five. His new linemate Sergei Kostitsyn has done very little since a three-point night in Montreal’s first visit to Toronto this season, a 6-1 win on Oct. 11.
“Maybe I’m a bit unlucky,” said Kostitsyn. “We’ll see the next game.”
Kostitsyn and defenceman Ryan O’Byrne, both second-year players, have seen their play sag after their promising rookie campaigns. Carbonneau said the only solution is for the players to work their way out of whatever funk they are in.
“The second year is tougher because you think a little more,” the coach said. “O’Byrne is probably the same.
“Last year, they were playing hard to gain a spot, and now they’re playing not to lose their spot. Your thinking is different. If something doesn’t work, you wonder ‘What’s going to happen now?”‘
He said they should take inspiration from Plekanec, a 29-goal scorer last season who had only one through the team’s first nine games. Plekanec never stopped pushing hard and now leads the club with 34 shots on goal. Finally, on Long Island, two went in and his slump was over.
Carbonneau likes the idea of having three lines that can score goals and play a responsible defensive game.
“You want to have three lines you can send onto the ice when you need a goal that can also play against the best line on the other team,” he said. “Three years ago when I came here, we’d play Ottawa with (Jason) Spezza, (Dany) Heatley and (Daniel) Alfredsson and it was a struggle.
“We had to match and take lines off. It slows the tempo of the game. Now we have three lines playing well, and even a fourth, and I have no problem putting any of them on the ice against anybody. I’m sure the coach on the other side finds it hard to play against us because of that.”