The Engels Angle: Kostitsyn and Eller, or Pacioretty and Desharnais?
(Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
By Eric Engels
Published Wednesday, August 10, 2011 10:38AM EDT
MONTREAL - Most of the paper lineups I've seen this summer have Max Pacioretty penned into the top-six, likely partnered with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta. Considering Pacioretty's production last season, there's merit to the idea that he has the ability to seize that spot over Andrei Kostitsyn. The question is, does that afford the Canadiens the balance they're seeking?
The general consensus is that Pacioretty was the spark required to ignite any production out of Gomez last season, and that Kostitsyn's inability to do so, or to consistently produce next to Tomas Plekanec, will see him take a back seat to Pacioretty this fall.
Pacioretty scored 24 points in 37 games last season, scoring a hair under a point/game over his final 20 before suffering the trauma inflicted by Zdeno Chara's ruthless, neck-breaking, concussion-inducing hit. Most impressively, of the 14 goals he managed, seven of them came at even strength and the other seven came on the man-advantage, at a point of the season the Canadiens desperately needed a boost in that department.
Pacioretty's versatility can't be denied. He has all the attributes of a legitimate power-forward; incredible speed, a willingness to drive the net, a fantastic shot, and an underrated level of finesse. In fact, in the early part of his career, as he struggled to score with regularity, many fans suggested he didn't have the hand-skills required to fill a role in the top-six.
There's no question he proved those doubters wrong last season. He did so before he came to the NHL, notching 17 goals and 15 assists in 27 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs.
In leveling the AHL throughout November, a call from the Canadiens was imminent, and his immediate seizure of the opportunity he was presented with was proof-positive he belonged where he felt he belonged in Montreal's lineup.
In his success, Pacioretty spread the credit in two directions; to the coaches Cunneyworth and Ladouceur, who unleashed his potential by allowing him to make mistakes and play freely, and to David Desharnais, who Pacioretty referred to as the best player he's ever played with, at any level.
Most are willing to place Kostitsyn on the bubble of the top-six because they're confident he can rekindle what appeared to be nice chemistry with Lars Eller, in the mid months of last season. But too many have discounted Kostitsyn's ability to make this a competition, and they've looked past Pacioretty's chemistry with Desharnais.
And then, you have to consider Eller's role as a shut-down centre in the playoffs. It seemed he found comfort with the team in the late portion of the season, and Martin was happy to afford him a defensive opportunity he handled adeptly in the post-season. He even handled it through the pain of a separated shoulder.
If Eller were to be the team's third line centre, playing with offensive linemates, would Desharnais' role on the team be undefined? Would Desharnais be able to cope with negligible ice-time and a defensive role, plugged in with Ryan White, Mathieu Darche or Travis Moen, and still produce what's expected of him?
Desharnais' offensive potential is much higher than Eller's. Scoring 184 points in 183 AHL games is a testament to that fact, and it's reinforced by his 22 points in 43 NHL games last season. His point-per-game average was twice as good as Eller's was. And considering how the Canadiens are built, they have more scoring depth than they had last season, and are better positioned to operate with three scoring lines.
This lineup affords the Canadiens a nice scoring mix.
This lineup might afford them a better scoring mix and a better overall balance.
Which do you prefer?