Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Mea Culpa on the Pac-Man

I can admit when I’m wrong. The question now is whether Guy Carbonneau can as well.

Max Pacioretty is making a lot of people question what they believed was a formality at Habs training camp of simply penciling in the glut of veteran forwards into their spots.

Carbonneau, on the second day of training camp, said the nine forwards that would make up the top three lines were set, and the battle would be among the guys looking for a spot on the fourth line.

I never believed that Pacioretty would be so impressive at this stage in his career that he would be able to cause this debate, which will be raging from now until the end of camp. I even encouraged my media colleagues to lay off the kid, and here I am, about to pour it on thick.

Pacioretty is showing an ability to not only compete at this level, but excel, and if I were Guillaume Latendresse I would be a little concerned right now.

“Every time he shows us something more, and we’ll have a difficult decision to make,” Carbonmneau said. “He’s adapted really well. He seems to find ways to make plays when there’s nothing happening. It’s good for a player when he can do that.”

When Carbonneau says that Pacioretty is forcing him into a difficult decision, Latendresse is the only possible guy that can represent the other half of that choice. There would be no point keeping Pacioretty in Montreal and having him play eight minutes a night on the fourth line. So if he sticks, that would most probably mean either Latendresse moves down to the fourth line, or he moves to Hamilton.

Either way, it would be bad news for the Boy Wonder from Ste-Catherine.

Pacioretty, quite understandably, was beaming in the Habs room following Tuesday’s win over the Red Wings. His goal in the second period was a perfect example of what Carbonneau was talking about, taking a very innocent-looking rush and turning it into an opportunity, one he cashed in on. His shootout goal showed an incredible amount of poise for a 19-year-old sent out first by his coach.

But that wasn’t it, because Pacioretty created so much more playing alongside Alex Kovalev and Robert Lang, so much so that he completely overshadowed the much hyped re-unification of the former Penguins linemates for the first time of the pre-season.

Pacioretty picked the pocket of none other than Chris Chelios while killing a penalty in the first period to set up a great chance for Kyle Chipchura, then finished his shift by drilling Tomas Kopecky into the boards, exacting a bit of revenge on behalf of fallen teammate Mathieu Carle.

He nearly won it in regulation when Kovalev sent him in on a partial break, and he topped it off by being named the game’s first star.

But that’s not even the best part of it, because Pacioretty’s father Ray made the seven-hour drive up from New Canaan, Connecticut to watch his boy play as well.

“I called him this morning and told him who I was playing with, and he hopped in the car as soon as he got off the phone,” Pacioretty said. “I know that my first goal of the season each year has been in front of my parents. So I had a feeling this morning that I had to call my dad and get him up here, because it’s been too many games.”

Pacioretty wasn’t the only guy to leave an impression on the coaching staff, as Carbonneau described Chipchura’s game as his best of the pre-season. He appeared more involved, got a few chances and his line with Mathieu Dandenault and Gregory Stewart was strong on the cycle all night.

On the other end of the ledger, Carbonneau considered Tuesday’s game to be Yannick Weber’s worst so far, attributing it to the fast-paced, high-pressure style of the Red Wings.

Carbonneau plans on making a decision about the next round of cuts after Wednesday night’s game against the Boston Bruins, and he wouldn’t confirm whether or not Pacioretty would be in the lineup because Saku Koivu (foot), Alex Tanguay (groin) and Christopher Higgins (groin) are all ready to play.

My guess would be that if Pacioretty is not in the lineup Wednesday, it means he’s heading up to Mont Tremblant with the team Thursday. At that point, it’s anyone’s ball game, and Latendresse better be ready to step up to the plate.

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