Daily Hab-it: Opportunity knocks for Eller
Montreal Canadiens' Lars Eller scores the first goal against Calgary Flames' Miikka Kiprusoff as Calgary Flames' Cory Sarich looks on during first period National Hockey League action Monday, January 17, 2011 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Published Wednesday, January 19, 2011 12:35AM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 3:11AM EDT
MONTREAL - Undoubtedly, many among you are bemoaning the horrible luck of your Canadiens, adding Michael Cammalleri and Max Pacioretty to an injury list that already includes Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges - two top four defencemen joined by top two top six forwards.
That's your right, but I have to believe that Jacques Martin and his assistants have already begun thinking of what the Canadiens do to fill that void.
But to me, the answer is pretty obvious.
This is an opportunity unlike any he's had all season, one that will see him benefit from a tolerance for rookie mistakes borne out of desperate need.
If logic were to dictate what happens from here – assuming of course that the report of Cammalleri needing at least two weeks to recover from a shoulder separation are accurate – then Eller and Andrei Kostitsyn should play with Tomas Plekanec while Benoit Pouliot could slide into Max Pacioretty's spot with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta.
The pressure will be on this group to produce offence, because it will be even more unlikely to come from the bottom six forwards with Pouliot and Kostitsyn now leaving their ranks.
And while both of those hot and cold talents will need to make sure they bring consistency to their games, both Pouliot and Kostitsyn are known commodities when they are on top of things. If they play the way they're capable, they should produce.
Eller, however, remains a wild card.
His performance in the AHL last season, when he finished with nine goals and 12 assists in his final 18 games playing for a last place team in Peoria, suggests Eller has some offence in his tool box.
We've seen glimpses of that this season, but they have largely been brief flashes shown for little more than a shift or two at a time, let alone multiple games in a row.
A big reason for that, in my mind, is that Eller has been hamstrung by his lack of power play minutes. In the games where he seems to have gotten off to a strong start a string of penalties often follows, which means Eller finds himself on the bench for long stretches of time.
It's a momentum killer for the kid.
But in light of what's happened and the resulting need for the Canadiens to find another offensive threat from within (they simply don't exist in Hamilton), I would think the time is right for Martin to put Eller on the power play.
It's far from being a given, seeing as Eller did not get a single second of Montreal's 5:38 of power play time in Tuesday night's 2-1 overtime loss in Buffalo. Mathieu Darche, God love him, had 2:41 of ice time with the man advantage, while Cammalleri's minutes went to Kostitsyn.
I have no problem with using Darche to stand in front of the net on the power play because he's good at it, but the residual effect is that Eller or Kostitsyn or Pouliot or all three sit for long stretches on the bench as a result. When those three aren't all that vital to your offensive success overall, that's fine. But now that they are, it's an issue.
Eller has played 8:28 on the power play this entire season, and I would bet that a decent chunk of that came from playing the final 10 seconds with a couple of checking forwards.
Is it so unreasonable to believe that perhaps Eller could fill Darche's role of being a net presence guy? Watching him get mauled by Tyler Myers in Buffalo, yet still emerging with the puck after taking a series of unpenalized shots from behind gives me the impression that the kid has a bit of physical resiliency in him.
If this team wants to continue scoring goals with any degree of consistency, Eller needs to become more of a factor offensively. And the best way to send him the message that the team needs him is to put him in the most offensively favourable situation there is in hockey.
I think an argument can be made that P.K. Subban's best hockey of the season coincides nearly perfectly with the injury to Josh Gorges. His team needed him, he was placed in more important situations, and he responded.
The same could very well happen with Eller, if he is properly given the opportunity.