Samsonov can’t crack Habs lineup despite Kovalev’s illness

Samsonov was listed as a healthy scratch for a second straight game for the Canadiens’ outing against the New York Islanders on Tuesday – despite the absence of winger Alex Kovalev, sidelined by a bout of vertigo.

Carbonneau decided to replace Kovalev with rookie Andrei Kostitsyn and leave the underperforming Samsonov – the team’s third-highest paid player at US$3.525 million – in the press box for the seventh time this season.

The decision is largely based on comments Samsonov made in St. Louis on Saturday, expressing regret for signing a two-year free agent deal with the Canadiens last summer, although the Russian winger backed away from that sentiment Tuesday.

“I don’t want to be a distraction,” Samsonov said after the team’s morning skate. “You guys ask me questions and I’m trying to answer as truthfully as I can. That probably wasn’t the right time. I shouldn’t be the subject of talk, we’re fighting for a playoff spot.”

Samsonov, Montreal’s lone free agent acquisition, has been a major disappointment this season. He is on pace for career lows in every statistical category with only nine goals and 17 assists in 63 games.

Carbonneau said it was good to hear Samsonov try to take back his comments, but he felt the apology rang a bit hollow considering this wasn’t his first such offence this season.

Samsonov’s agent, Neil Abbott, went public with a trade demand on behalf of his client in early February, prompting the Canadiens to place him on waivers. Samsonov had a private conversation with Carbonneau and GM Bob Gainey following that incident and, although he sat out the next two games, he worked his way back to playing a regular shift.

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That changed in Montreal’s 6-2 loss in Atlanta on Thursday, where Samsonov was a minus-3 in only nine shifts and was nailed to the bench for much of the second half of the game.

Carbonneau made him a healthy scratch for the Canadiens’ 4-3 win Saturday in St. Louis. And the coach didn’t call on Samsonov for Tuesday’s game either.

Asked whether Samsonov would play for the Canadiens again this season, Carbonneau said anything was possible.

“I’m not ruling out anything,” he said. “I have no doubt that he regrets what he said, but he said it, and it’s not the first time.”

Carbonneau, however, got some good news from injured starting goalie Cristobal Huet.

Huet spent close to an hour on the ice Tuesday morning with Canadiens goaltending coach Roland Melanson and strength coach Scott Livingston working on footwork and technique after being out of action for nearly a month recovering from surgery on a torn hamstring.

“I liked the fact he was out on the ice,” Carbonneau said. “They think he’s ahead of the curve. Obviously having the operation instead of just waiting probably helped. But how far he is and when he will be ready is hard to say.”

Huet wasn’t any more forthcoming about whether he could advance the original timetable of making it back for the playoffs.

There may not be a post-season to make. In Huet’s absence, the Canadiens had allowed 46 goals in going 5-6-0 heading into Tuesday night’s game.