MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens are off to a hot start this season even though Jacques Martin is still holding tryouts for a key position.
The head coach is looking for the right fit at left wing on one of the top lines with centre Scott Gomez and captain Brian Gionta.
A succession of forwards have skated there in recent games to see who can find chemistry with two players who have worked together on and off for a decade.
In a 3-2 overtime win over Phoenix on Monday night, Tom Pyatt started on the wing, but later Travis Moen, Benoit Pouliot and Mathieu Darche all got their chance for at least a shift or two.
When asked what he was looking for, Martin smiled and said ”Didn’t you read the job posting?
”First of all, for a player to play with good players he’s got to have vision and be able to make plays. It’s frustrating for talented players to play with a guy who doesn’t have vision. He will kill plays, not make them. And we want a guy with speed who will go to the net.”
No one has seized the job yet, but Pyatt was back on that line on Tuesday as the Canadiens practised at the Bell Centre, where they had a team picture taken, rather than at their suburban training centre.
This week they have back-to-back games with the Islanders—Wednesday night at home and Friday night on Long Island—and then face Florida on Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
The Canadiens are near the top of the Eastern Conference with a 5-2-1 record, so there is little concern that two of their highest-paid forwards, Gomez and Gionta, each have only one goal in eight games.
”They’re playing well,” Martin added. ”They don’t have the points people want from them, but they’re helping the team win.”
So far the attack has been carried by the unit centred by Tomas Plekanec with Michael Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn on the wings. It has scored 11 of the team’s 20 goals this season.
”Brian’s kind of forgotten how to score here for a second, but there’s no worry,” Gomez said, taking a friendly dig at Gionta who is the goal-scorer of the two. ”We worry when we’re not getting shots, but the opportunities are there.
”We have to start producing, but it’s a matter of time.”
Gionta and Gomez evolved together with the New Jersey Devils for most of the past 10 years before both joined the Canadiens for the 2009-10 season. Their chemistry is such that the third man on the line is often left on his own.
Gomez, a reluctant shooter, takes his share of the blame for the slow start.
”Brian’s had chances, but the passes have been off and a couple of times I’ve rushed him,” Gomez said. ”I’ve got to shoot too.
”I’ve got to make it to the point where someone’s going to think I’m shooting the puck because it’s pretty bad when they just give you a breakaway sometimes and just take away your wingers.”
Pyatt, acquired from the New York Rangers in the Chris Higgins trade in 2009, hopes his hard-working game will fit with the two veterans.
”Jacques doesn’t want me to change my game when I play with those guys—just play a simple game and use my speed and get to the net,” the 23-year-old said. ”They can do all the creative stuff.”
What Martin calls his ”auditions” do not sit as well with Pouliot, who had that job to start the season but lately has been playing on the third or fourth units.
The fourth overall pick in the 2005 draft went on a scoring tear after he was acquired from Minnesota for winger Guillaume Latendresse last November but ended the season with one goal in his last 14 games and was shut out in 18 playoff games. With one goal and two assists this season, Pouliot has a combined two goals in his last 40 games.
What the skilled winger would like is time on a set line to develop chemistry, but said he understands that Martin rewards those who are playing well.
”Maybe a little more patience would be nice,” the 24-year-old said. ”We’re only eight games in, so maybe give a chance to a guy to stick with someone for at least 10 (games) in a row or something.
”Someone’s going to click with someone, so you just got to maybe be a little more patient and let the guy have a chance. Our first line has been intact all year and after that no one knows who they’re going to play with, so it’s not easy. Any night, you could get jumped up to the second or dropped down to the fourth line, so you just have to be ready for the situation.”
The Canadiens got only their second power-play goal in 29 chances this season against Phoenix, but help is on the way from defence ace and point man Andrei Markov. Martin said Markov is likely to return Saturday from a knee surgery for an injury suffered during the second round of playoffs.
He also hinted that backup goalie Alex Auld will get his first start sometime this weekend, probably on Friday. Carey Price has started every game thus far and has posted a solid 2.23 goals-against average with a .918 save percentage.
All signs suggest forward Dustin Boyd will sit out a second game in a row and defenceman Ryan O’Byrne, who has lost his spot to newcomer Alexandre Picard, will be scratched for sixth straight game.