MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens got a dose of shock therapy Wednesday as defenceman Ryan O’Byrne and forward Maxim Lapierre were called up from the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL.
With no injured players to replace, it was clear coach Guy Carbonneau wanted to wake up his slumping team by bringing in youthful energy. “For sure it’s a message to the other players that the party’s over, it’s time to play hockey,” Carbonneau said.
To make room for the newcomers, forward Mikhail Grabovski, who made the team out of camp, but played in only 12 games, was sent back to Hamilton, and goaltender Cristobal Huet was placed on the injured list with a pulled groin.
Both O’Byrne and Lapierre are to play on Thursday night when the Canadiens visit the Bruins in Boston.
Carbonneau said final decisions haven’t been made, but it appears that defenceman Josh Gorges and forward/defenceman Mark Streit will sit out along with one among fourth liners Michael Ryder, Tom Kostopoulos (for a third straight game) and Steve Begin.
The Canadiens have only three points from their last six games. Of late, they have a shootout loss a home to Nashville in which they blew leads of 3-0 and 4-1 in the third period, and Tuesday night’s 4-1 spanking at home by the first-place overall Detroit Red Wings.
In the past two weeks, they’ve tried shuffling lines and sitting out veterans.
Now they’re trying call-ups (usually next on the list is making a trade).
Only last week, Carbonneau likened bringing players in from the minors to trading a quarter for 25 cents.
But that was then. This is now.
“I want energy, a little life, which is hard to come by right now,” he said.
That’s why O’Byrne was awakened Tuesday night by a phone call. He was too late to answer, but saw the voice mail from Hamilton general manager Julien Brisebois and knew it was probably good news.
The next morning, he was at the Canadiens practice rink in Verdun, Que., skating on a defence pair with veteran Roman Hamrlik.
“He’s played a lot of games. he’s steady and he’s always in the right place,” the Victoria native said. “It was the exact same thing in the pre-season games. He made my job a lot easier.”
O’Byrne brings a six-foot-five frame, a long reach and a surprisingly smooth skating stride to an undersized defence group.
The 23-year-old played three seasons at Cornell University before joining Hamilton last season and helping the Bulldogs win a Calder Cup. O’Byrne tends to stay at the back. He went 80 AHL games in 2006-07 without a goal, although he had two goals and six assists in 18 games this season.
He was expected to make the jump to the NHL club some time this season, although perhaps not this soon.
Lapierre looked to have made the Canadiens last season, when he was called up twice and played 46 NHL games before being sent back for the AHL playoffs.
The six-foot-two Montreal native was even used as the poster boy for the team’s new jerseys during the pre-season, but found himself back in Hamilton after a weak camp.
The Canadiens tried to convert him from centre to left wing, but a lack of centres in Hamilton had him back in his favourite position of late.
“It’s good to be back in the big town,” said Lapierre, who had seven goals and seven assists in 19 AHL games. “The challenge now is to try to get back on the winning road.
“We were living the same thing in Hamilton, so it’s nothing different. I think my role is to finish my checks and be a spark by showing how hard I work on the ice. That’s what I’ll do.”
Another surprise was to see veteran Bryan Smolinski back for a second stint on the top line with Saku Koivu and Chris Higgins. Streit was in that spot against Detroit, when his a bad turnover led to a Red Wings goal.
And the top defence pair of Andrei Markov and Mike Komisarek was reunited.
Markov started the season on fire and is among the leaders in fan voting for the Eastern Conference all-star team, but his play has deteriorated to the point where he is now a team-worst minus-10.
After a minus-2 in the Detroit game, an angry Carbonneau said that perhaps Markov “sees himself in the all-star game too soon” and that “his play is not where it was.”
Markov’s reaction was that “it’s a free country and he can say whatever he wants.
“I know my game is not good right now, but I’m looking forward. I think it’s not only me, it’s the whole team that’s struggling now. We have to come back and do simple things and play a simple game.”