BROSSARD, Que. - No one has ever doubted the talent of Andrei Kostitsyn, but coach Jacques Martin says it will take more than that for the enigmatic Montreal Canadiens winger to get off the fourth line and back in a scoring role.
Kostitsyn got just over seven minutes of ice time Saturday night in a 5-4 shootout win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, spending the entire game on Montreal's fourth unit with Kyle Chipchura and Gregory Stewart.
Kostitsyn was on the same line Monday at practice and said afterwards that he finds it difficult to use his talent to help the team when he's playing such a limited role.
"I go on the ice for a couple of shifts and I feel better, but then it's five minutes before I get another shift and it's like I'm starting the game again," Kostitsyn said. "Last year I played 16, 17, 18 minutes a game, and after every shift I felt like I was in the game. Now it's a couple of shifts, and if we get a penalty I spend five or six minutes on the bench. It's tough."
Kostitsyn, 23, had a breakout campaign in 2007-08 playing alongside Tomas Plekanec and former Hab Alex Kovalev, notching 26 goals with 27 assists, closing the year with 20 goals in his final 46 games. He took a step back last season, like most of his teammates, but still finished with 23 goals and 18 assists.
He was a player that was being counted on to provide secondary offence for the Canadiens this year, but with only one goal and three assists through 14 games, Kostitsyn has not satisfied Martin's needs.
"Before the last game he played most of the games on the top two lines and had plenty of opportunities on the power play," Martin said. "I guess what I'm asking from him is more intensity, more determination."
Kostitsyn only saw 18 seconds of ice time on the power play Saturday night, and a lot of his minutes on that unit have been gobbled up by journeyman Glen Metropolit.
Metropolit has excelled this season with eight points in as many games, providing Martin with the strong work ethic he's seeking from Kostitsyn.
"The reason (Metropolit) is getting power play time is because other people haven't performed on the power play," Martin said. "It's as simple as that. I didn't think he'd be there, but because of other people not filling that role it's given him an opportunity."
Metropolit is centring a line with rugged winger Travis Moen and second-year forward Max Pacioretty, a trio that has been gaining the coach's confidence more with every game.
"His line with Travis Moen and (Max) Pacioretty has been our line that's stuck together a little longer than a lot of the other lines," Martin said. "I like Glen's outlook and his energy. His teammates like him, he's a smart player and he competes."
Metropolit, 34, says this is the first time since his rookie year in 1999-2000 with the Washington Capitals that he's seen consistent time on the power play. He says the new role and the success that's come with it couldn't have come at a better time.
"Well, it's a big year," the Toronto native said with a smile. "You've got the Olympics coming up."
Metropolit was a bit of a forgotten man this past summer when Habs GM Bob Gainey overhauled the roster with seven new faces coming in, but he says he's always had to work hard to earn his spot on the team throughout his career and this year was no different.
That makes him a good person to ask what Kostitsyn needs to do in order to get out of his current lethargy and back into Martin's good books.
"When you play the game 100 per cent you get some bounces," Metropolit said of Kostitsyn. "All you can control is to work hard, that's how I always did it."