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The change-up

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

OTTAWA – The best way to get different results is to change up the formula.

Coming off a four-game losing streak, Randy Cunneyworth is looking for more offense and tighter defense when his team hits the ice at Scotiabank Place. Seeing his troops score just three goals in the last three games, Cunneyworth opted to split up his most productive line to help spark the rest of his forwards.

Currently sitting second and third in team scoring, respectively, Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole will flank Lars Eller on Tuesday night. Despite having just two practices with Eller under their belts, the bruising power forwards are hoping to build on their budding chemistry with the young Dane.

Cole discussing the line changes

“I think it can work well. We’re three big bodies and Lars does a great job handling the puck and protecting the puck and skating,” confirmed Cole, who is leading the Habs with 13 goals in 36 games so far this season. “It should be good. Hopefully we’ll just focus on advancing the puck simply through the neutral zone and get in on the forecheck and play a good cycle game.

“Through the course of the season, the lines are always changing on any team,” added the 10-year NHL veteran. “It’s just how things go on a weekly, daily, monthly basis. Hopefully this will spark some guys and we can get a more confident feeling going offensively and the results come with it.”

Having played over 266 minutes together this season, the Cole-David Desharnais-Pacioretty line has been the team’s most consistent trio to date. But with Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez still sidelined with lower body injuries, Cunneyworth is hoping Desharnais will prove to be exactly the offensive catalyst Michael Cammalleri needs to get back to his sharp-shooting ways.

“Sometimes you think things are going well but then when the lines change around it kind of wakes you up and puts you in your place,” described Desharnais, whose 16 assists are second on the team only to Tomas Plekanec. “It’s not going to be a situation where I’m going to just give him the puck and he’ll automatically just score immediately. It’s going to take hard work. He’s got to be ready to go into the corners and so do I.”

The defensive pairings will have a different look to them on Tuesday night as well, with P.K. Subban likely to return to the lineup alongside Josh Gorges after being a healthy scratch in the team’s last game in Winnipeg.

“Regardless of who’s in the lineup, we need a solid effort from 20 guys,” stressed Cunneyworth. “We have to do a better job in front, but mostly, the puck has to get there. Then it’s a battle when the puck arrives. At this level, usually the second and third opportunities are the ones that will go in.”

The former Senators’ captain wouldn’t mind kicking off his first winning streak as head coach against his old team.

“There’s no time like the present to start,” he admitted. “But it’s about playing the right way for 60 minutes – or 65 if necessary – and we have a team that’s capable of doing that; we just have to put the game together.”

Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.

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