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Cunneyworth aims to make his mark on Canadiens

by Arpon Basu /

MONTREAL -- If there is one major difference to be seen from Randy Cunneyworth's first game behind the Montreal Canadiens bench, it was the smile on Lars Eller's face.

No, Eller was not pleased that his Canadiens blew yet another lead at home in Saturday night's 5-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils. But when he was asked to address the amount of ice time he received in the game, he couldn't help but grin.

After pretty frequent benchings under previous coach Jacques Martin, Eller was the center who received the second-most ice time against the Devils, behind only Tomas Plekanec. His 18:25 included 2:22 on the penalty kill, a role he saw only sparingly under Martin -- and Eller was also used at even strength more than any other forward on the Canadiens.


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So, is that an encouraging sign?

"I probably shouldn't say this because it sounds bad after a loss and I don't want to be worried about individual things," Eller said. "But yeah."

Cunneyworth noted that Eller's strong skating ability makes him a part of what he had identified earlier in the day as the team's strongest asset: its speed. He also liked the way rookie winger Louis Leblanc was playing next to Eller and gave him a regular shift as well -- one game after Leblanc scored his first NHL goal in a 4-3 loss to the Flyers on Thursday only to get just one shift in the third period as Martin shortened his bench.

"We'll evaluate our lineup and see what changes need to be made," Cunneyworth said. "But we'll make sure roles are permanent. I think you have to have that, four lines that will be given certain roles and have them stick to those roles."

If there is one thing that marked much of Martin's tenure as coach of the Canadiens, it would probably be that no one's role was permanent. Forward lines would change mid-game on a regular basis and certain players – usually younger ones – would be benched in favor of veterans late in games, even if those veterans weren't necessarily playing a strong game.

Another major difference was Cunneyworth's tolerance of a critical error in the game.

Defenseman Chris Campoli committed an inexcusable error in judgment at 1:31 of the third period, attempting to carry the puck out of his end up the middle of the ice and committing a turnover that led to the go-ahead goal by Patrik Elias. An error like that may have led to a benching under Martin, but not only did Campoli play a regular shift throughout the third period, he was even defended somewhat by Cunneyworth afterwards.

"Everybody's looking at Campoli in that situation, but we have to be a little better positioned," Cunneyworth said. "We had the support, but I don't know if we gave him a good out, a good target. I think what we'd like to see from guys in that situation is that if you don't like what you see target wise, use the glass and get it out. I think he tried to take it a little further than he needed to."

Cunneyworth is looking forward to an upcoming six-game road trip to institute more tangible changes tactically and establish those roles he wants to make permanent moving forward. But if Saturday night is any indication, it appears as though the Canadiens players can expect to know exactly how often they will be used and with whom they will be playing from now on.
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