So this is what Bob Gainey meant when he talked about "button-pushing" techniques Don Lever could help out with.
The Hamilton Bulldogs head coach was promoted to the main club when Guy Carbonneau was fired, and a big reason Gainey gave for making the move was to help motivate and relate to the players Lever had under him in the AHL.
Two of those guys are Matt D'Agostini and Max Pacioretty, and frankly I was pretty surprised to see Pacioretty scratched in the Oilers game Tuesday night.
But now it's pretty clear what's going on here.
The plan for Thursday night's game against the Islanders is for D'Agostini to sit out and Pacioretty to grab his spot on left wing with Tomas Plekanec and Alex Kovalev. Kovalev was excused from this morning's skate because he's under the weather, and if he can't go then both D'Agostini and Pacioretty will play. I don't have any inside information on what Kovalev's temperature was this morning, but I would think he'll play.
If he does, it will finally create the long-anticipated competition for playing time between D'Agostini and Pacioretty, something that likely would not have happened if Carbonneau was still around because of his reluctance to play Mathieu Dandenault. I think both these guys will benefit from the situation because they will learn that every single shift is important in the NHL.
I don't think either of them understood that before (more D'Agostini than Pacioretty), but now the point will be driven home because not only will they be trying to win the hockey game, they will know that every time they step on the ice they are being evaluated. I don't think such a method would work with a veteran, but it might light a fire under one of the two youngsters.
If I had to guess just by looking at the circustances for both players, I would have to think D'Agostini would benefit the most from the motivational ploy. At 22 years old and already having served his time in the AHL, D'Agostini may be looking at this opportunity as his final shot at the NHL, even though that couldn't be further from the truth. Seeing a younger, bigger, more talented version of himself in Pacioretty trying to steal his spot should work to squeeze everything possible out of D'Agostini.
But for some reason, and I can't really put my finger on it, I just have a feeling about Pacioretty. The way he carries himself and handles the media attention at such a young age is impressive off the ice, but his vision and passing ability on the ice has really opened my eyes as to his hockey IQ. I feel that if he wins this little competition with D'Agostini, Pacioretty could become one of those rookies who explodes come playoff time. Just a hunch.