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Samsonov looks for better second half after weak start with Canadiens

That is not the number either he or the Canadiens had in mind when the two-time 29-goal scorer signed a two-year $US7.05-million contract as a free agent last summer. The 28-year-old only hopes that if he keeps working, the goals will come more regularly in the second half of the NHL season.

"If you start thinking about it, you'll go crazy," Samsonov said Tuesday of his slump. "I'll take it game by game and see where it goes.

"Everything comes down to putting things aside, going out and working hard and not thinking about it."

He admits it's not easy.

After ending a career-high 19-game scoreless drought with a two-goal effort against his former team, the Boston Bruins, on Dec. 12, the speedy left-winger started another slump.

Samsonov has gone nine games without a goal. That made it two goals and nine assists in a 28-game span. He managed one assist in Montreal's 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning Tuesday night.

"You try to leave everything at the rink, but it's definitely hard," he said. "This is our life.

"You rely on your family and friends to support you. You have to enjoy what you're doing."

It has helped that the Canadiens were winning through the first three months of the season despite weak production from their entire second line of Samsonov, Alex Kovalev and centre Tomas Plekanec.

Much has been made of how Samsonov and Kovalev both like to hang on to the puck and how neither is a pure shooter.

They certainly haven't found the same chemistry as the top line of Saku Koivu, Chris Higgins and Michael Ryder, or the third line of Radek Bonk, Mike Johnson and Alexander Perezhogin.

But coach Guy Carbonneau is hesitant to tinker with his lines, particularly with the team winning. And others have struggled to score as well, including Ryder, who is off his 30-goal pace of last season, and Perezhogin.

The Canadiens have won mostly with their special teams - both the power play and the penalty killing have been in the top three in the league for most of the first half - and Cristobal Huet's solid goaltending. The Canadiens lead the league with 12 short-handed goals.

Although he plays on the second power-play unit, Samsonov gets most of his ice time with the teams at even strength, where goals have been scarce for nearly all the Canadiens.

"He's not alone," Carbonneau said of Samsonov. "We can talk about Alex Perezhogin or other players too.

"It's hard to score goals five-on-five now, even with the new rules, because teams are playing well defensively. And teams are playing more carefully against us. They're concentrating on not taking penalties to keep our power play off the ice."

Carbonneau's goal for the second half is to score more at even strength.

"One thing we have to improve is our five-on-five play," he said. "Even on our power play, in the first half to the season, our first unit was good but our second unit, even if they created chances, wasn't able to put numbers on the board.

"We expect more from everybody, whether it's goals, points or hard work. We're not going to surprise anybody anymore."

That was evident on a road trip spanning the Christmas period, when the Canadiens lost three of four games in regulation time for the first time this season against conference rivals battling for playoff positions.

"That trip really showed us what kind of second half we're going to have - it's not going to be easy," added Carbonneau.

Into that fray goes Samsonov, looking to start producing as he has in the past.

In his first five seasons, he averaged about 25 goals. After two injury-marred seasons before the 2004-'05 lockout year, he rebounded last season with 23 goals split between the Bruins and Edmonton Oilers, to whom he was traded late in the season.

He also had 15 points in 19 playoff games as the Oilers reached the Stanley Cup final.

"The only thing you can do is be ready for every game," said Samsonov. "Personally, it's a struggle, but when the team's winning, it makes it easier."


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