Difficult Choices Face Jacques Martin

Fresh off the heels of another solid Team B performance last night, the Canadiens are right back at it tonight as Team A—lead by Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Carey Price, and Lars Eller—look to get their first preseason win as they take on the Florida Panthers tonight at the Bell Centre. With a second round of training camp cuts on the horizon, a few trends—some good and some not so good—have started to emerged from the play so far.

Carey Price

It probably doesn’t need saying, since everyone is talking about it, but suffice it to say that Price has not yet gotten his feet under him.

As I said when fans started booing Price after the Habs’ first preseason loss to Boston last week, this is the preseason and the final result of each game doesn’t mean much. Oh sure, it’s nice to get the win, but this is training camp which means that the players are in training. He’ll get there and so will the team.

Personally, I am looking forward to watch Price with his full team in front of him.

Once Jacques Martin trims the roster a bit more and we start seeing a lineup that starts to approximate the players we will see once the season starts, we will finally get an idea of what this team looks like. Right now, there are battles taking part for individual spots on the team and, watching the games, it looks like a bit of a free-for-all with players not entirely respecting the system. Give it a week, and you will start to see some cohesion on the ice.

Max Pacioretty

The forgotten one coming into camp—seemingly eclipsed by Eller, Aaron Palushaj and others—Pacioretty is turning in one of his best pro camps yet. Last night he was on a line with Dustin Boyd and Ryan White and the trio combined for four points and were a collective plus-4 on the night. More importantly, Pacioretty seemed to be the key cog, digging in the corners, going to the net, and using his size and speed to create offensive opportunities.

“Max said early in the first period to keep playing off each other and keep feeding off each other and we used that energy to keep playing,” said fellow linemate Ryan White about Pacioretty’s performance. “He played awesome, going to the net hard and making plays. When he plays like a big man out there he’s tough to stop.”

Tough to stop indeed as his four shots, two passes and plus-2 rating show. If MaxPac can keep it up, he will make the final few cuts very difficult for Martin.

Despite his strong play to date, it seems unlikely that he will start the year in the NHL considering the massive logjam in the Habs’ bottom six. If he keeps up his solid play, however, Pacioretty could be putting himself in line to be one of the first call-ups for injury replacement later in the season.

Pacioretty’s other chance at a roster spot is dependant on what players like Benoit Pouliot and Andrei Kostitsyn do from now until around December. If one or both of them are not cutting it by then, Pacioretty could see a door swing wide open for him.

To be honest, a few months in the AHL might be just what the doctor ordered to ensure that Pacioretty continues moving towards his goal of becoming a top-six power-forward in the NHL.

Ryan White

Like Pacioretty, White has been a standout at camp.

Coming to camp in the best shape of his life, White seems intent on making the big club this year and his four shots, one goal, and plus-1 rating last night shows exactly that.

While, like Pacioretty, starting the year in the NHL seems like a bit of a long shot right—given Martin’s love for Mathieu Darche and his reticence about inserting young players into the lineup—White is likely making the coach’s decision more difficult. Given how quick the pace of the preseason games are and the fact that Montreal is without a doubt a very fast skating team, I would rather see White—who has quick foot speed—on the fourth line than Darche—who is one of the slowest skater in the lineup. Not to mention the fact that White does not hesitate to drop the gloves if need be—like he did the other night against Eric Gryba when he ran a Habs player.

Martin tends to have his own way of doing things, however, and while there is an outside chance that White could beat out Darche, the likely scenario is that White will start the year in Hamilton.

White has a excellent combination of speed, grit, and toughness that the Habs need more of in their lineup, and while I don’t expect him to start the year in Montreal, he might not have to wait too long to get called back up.vAs injuries arise during the course of the season, White is showing that he should be one of the first pluggers to be called up when the opportunity presents itself.

(Follow Kamal on Facebook, Twitter, and HabsAddict.com)

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