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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Montreal Canadiens Erik Cole Clicking, while Canes Eric Staal is Slumping

After a very slow start during which he only had one assist in seven games to go along with a-3 plus/minus rating, newly acquired Erik Cole has finally clicked with his new linemates diminutive center David Desharnais and power forward Max Pacioretty.

In the last eleven games, during which his ice-time climbed finally climbed over 15 minutes/game, Cole scored four goals and added four assists for eight points.

During that stretch, Pacioretty has scored six goals and added four assists for ten points with a +5 +/- ratio. As for Desharnais, he has two goals and six assists for eight points and a +2 +/- differential.

That new line combination, has allowed Jacques Martin to play Thomas Plekanec on a line with Brian Gionta and whichever winger was on fire lately. Travis Moen filled in admirably for a few games until Mike Cammalleri was reinserted in the line-up yesterday against the Hurricanes and took his spot on the Habs' second line.

When Cole faced his former teammates at the Bell Centre in a 4-0 domination of the Hurricanes, he didn't seem too disturbed as shown in the video below:
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sENT9-kXpEo&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]
Cole is mocking his former teammate Tuomo Ruutu who was sitting in the penalty box after a tripping call. He also reminded him that he signed a four-year, $18-million free agent deal in the summer with Montreal.

In the meantime, Cole's former teammate, Eric Staal, seems lost on the ice and he's having the worst season of his prolific career so far, scoring only four goals and four assists for eight points in 18 games.

But what's even more surprising is his league-leading minus-18 +/- differential, on pace for a disastrous minus-78 over 82 games. Staal, who had been playing with grinder Chad Larose and phenom Jeff Skinner for a while, was moved to the wing to play with two-way center Brandon Sutter and Larose; not the most talented players on Earth.

Cole's departure created a gaping hole on Carolina's top two lines, as they filled the hole by signing underachiever Alexei Ponikarovsky who has only four points in 19 games.

Staal has averaged 0.90 point/game during the six-plus seasons when he and Cole have been teammates.

Without Cole, Staal's production has dropped to 0.69 point/game. Quite a dip that the Hurricanes could have foreseen, but they decided to re-sign players like Chad Larose, Joni Pitkanen and Jussi Jokinen instead.

They also signed as a UFA, overrated defenseman Tomas Kaberle to a three-year deal. That deal is is already looking bad as Kaberle only has four assists this season with the slumping Canes.

As for Cole, he's gaining confidence each and every game and he looks like the power forward the Canadiens have been seeking to complement youngster Max Pacioretty. These two are the only two forwards with some grit and size in the Canadiens' top six (Desharnais, Gionta, Cammalleri and Plekanec are all under 6'0'' and 200 lb).

If the Oswego-native keeps playing with determination and spite, he might well approach or surpass last year's totals of 26 goals and 26 assists for 52 points in 82 games—he's on pace for 41 points after his slow start.

Do you think Cole will play all season with Pacioretty and Desharnais? How many points will he put up?

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Fred is a freelance sports write and translator, as well as a featured Montreal Canadiens blogger on http://hockeyindependent.com/blog/ and a baseball columnist on http://www.dobberbaseball.com/. Fred also joined HabsAddict.com in time for the 2011-12 season.

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