The veteran winger, who was the Montreal Canadiens’ big off-season signing, arrived at practice Wednesday to find he was demoted to the fourth line in favour of rookie Guillaume Latendresse. “I’m not shocked,” an angry Samsonov said. “If you keep track of my ice time, that’s what I’m getting right now, I’m a fourth-line player.
“When I came here, I thought I was going to be a go-to guy and obviously, that’s not the case right now. What is it going to take? I don’t know. We’ll see.”
Montreal’s game in Boston on Thursday night will be Samsonov’s first in Beantown since he was traded by the Bruins on March 9 to the Edmonton Oilers.
The Moscow native had been with Boston since he was drafted eighth overall in 1997 and had his best season there with 75 points in 2000-01.
After helping Edmonton reach the Stanley Cup final last spring, he signed a US$7.05-million, two-year contract as a free agent with Montreal.
Samsonov was playing with Alex Kovalev and centre Tomas Plekanec but they did not find the chemistry that coach Guy Carbonneau was hoping for.
Looking for goals, Carbonneau put the bigger, more physical Latendresse in the five-foot-eight Samsonov’s spot on the Kovalev line in the third period of a 4-1 loss to Buffalo on Monday night.
They didn’t score, but the coach liked what he saw enough to try it again in Boston. Samsonov had only 12:16 of ice time in the game.
“I think I’m playing well,” said Samsonov, who has two goals and two assists in eight games. “It’s frustrating when your team is down 3-0 in the third period and you end up sitting on the bench watching the game.
“If that’s the case, then obviously I’m not needed here.”
The 27-year-old now wonders where he stands with team management and whether he has a future in Montreal.
“I’m getting paid too much to sit on the bench and watch hockey games and, if that’s the case, we’ll see where it goes from here,” Samsonov added.
“I obviously made a commitment to this team. I brought my family here. I bought a house. I’m fully committed to this team, so hopefully we’ll come up with something.”
Carbonneau said Samsonov “is not going anywhere,” but he wants to roll four lines and needs them all to produce.
He doesn’t want to break up his top trio of Saku Koivu, Chris Higgins and Michael Ryder, or his third line of Radek Bonk, Mike Johnson and Alexander Perezhogin, both of which have played well.
That left the fourth line, where Samsonov found himself skating with checkers Steve Begin and Garth Murray.
“You don’t want to rely on one line for scoring every game,” said Carbonneau. “We need to find line combinations to balance our attack.
“I have nothing against Samsonov, but it’s not working right now with Alex. I saw him play before and when we talked about signing him last summer, I was all for it. He’s a good player, but we’ll keep trying combinations.”
Before training camp, general manager Bob Gainey said he expected Samsonov would need time to adjust to a new team and that he was more interested in how he will be playing in February than in October.
“If that’s the plan, somebody’s got to let me know,” added Samsonov.
Samsonov’s loss was an unexpected gain for Latendresse, the 19-year-old right winger who made the team after a strong camp.
The Ste-Catherine, Que., native looked lost in his first handful of games, but has begun to find his niche in the last two by hitting opponents and battling for pucks in the corners.
“The role is going to be different and it’s up to me to take my chance and try to stay on that line and have a bigger role on the team,” said Latendresse, who is still seeking his first NHL point.
“Like I told the two players I’m going to play with, if I go in the corner, I’m just going to take the body and you guys take the puck. You’re the playmakers, so make your plays and I’m going to be there at the net.”
Where Samsonov and Kovalev both like to hang onto the puck and roam in the attacking zone, Latendresse heads straight in for a hit or goes to the net.
The six-foot-two 229-pound winger also likes to crowd the net to screen goalies and pick up rebounds. The Canadiens intend to keep Latendresse for the entire season rather than return him to the junior Drummondville Voltigeurs.
“In the last two or three games, he felt more confident with the puck on his stick,” said Carbonneau. “He wasn’t just trying to get rid of it.
“In the first four or five games he made some soft mistakes, which is normal. Now we need to find out what kind of player he is.”
Cristobal Huet, off to a tepid start with a 3.15 goals-against average and an .885 save percentage, is to start in goal for Montreal against Boston’s Tim Thomas, who is downright cold with a 4.40 GAA and .866 save percentage.
The Bruins have called up defenceman Matt Lashoff, who they selected 22nd overall in the 2005 draft, to shore up a defence that is without Brad Stuart (broken finger) and Andrew Alberts (separated shoulder). Forward Marco Sturm (knee) is also out.