If things don’t change soon for Guillaume Latendresse, he’ll continue to hear, “Guillaume, don’t dress.”
Goals have been a little harder to come by for the Montreal Canadiens than originally anticipated. A lot of fingers – likely some middle ones – have been pointed at Alex Kovalev. He has just five goals all year and only one on the power play, where he used to be so lethal. Entering Thursday’s game against the Rangers, the slick Russian had gone 14 straight contests without bending twine.
The Habs clearly need more – meaning something – out of Kovalev, but the results are coming. There’s a difference between not trying and not producing, and right now Kovalev’s issues are limited to the latter. He’s not mired in a classic Kovalev coma; he just can’t seem to find the net right now.
Latendresse, though, is a different case. While nobody expects Kovalev-type numbers out of the 21-year-old, he is regressing for a second straight season after a quality rookie showing. Latendresse made the Habs as a 19-year-old and some more cynical media members snickered it was more based on his French heritage than skill level. But Latendresse answered the call, producing a respectable 16 goals and 29 points as a rookie, while showing a willingness to utilize his 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame.
There was legitimate hope Latendresse could provide an element missing in Montreal for years – a winger with size who can bang and bag more than the odd goal.
But Latendresse leveled off last year, posting another 16-goal season that was less consistent. He had one goal and six points through five contests this season, but has since fallen off the map with just one goal and one assist over his past 15 games.
After missing three contests with a shoulder ailment, Latendresse was a healthy scratch Tuesday night against Atlanta.
There’s been a lot of line juggling in Montreal this year as coach Guy Carbonneau tries to strike the right balance. While Latendresse is not alone in his struggles, he certainly hasn’t shown an ability to consistently produce, while playing with offense-minded players.
Latendresse has some touch and a physical edge, but his skating is really bad. Anyone who played hockey as a youth knows every kids team has at least one ankle skater. He’s the kid who doesn’t pick his feet up when skating, but rather shuffles along the ice without ever taking a real stride.
Latendresse is the NHL equivalent of an ankle skater. And if he doesn’t pick it up, his spot in Montreal could be gone for good.
Like all but four Canadiens forwards, Latendresse is a free agent (restricted) after the season. Given all the other players due for new contracts (Koivu, Kovalev, Komisarek, Tanguay are UFAs; Plekanec and Higgins are RFAs), getting Latendresse inked is probably as big a priority for GM Bob Gainey as watching I Love Lucy re-runs.
The Canadiens also have a stable of young American Leaguers ready to step in thanks to a recent run of shrewd drafting. Matt D’Agostini is already up with the big club and got his first NHL goal Tuesday night. Ben Maxwell is next in line and Max Pacioretty isn’t too far behind him on the farm in Hamilton.
If Guillaume doesn’t get moving, Montreal will be moving on soon.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
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