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Habs' Cammalleri admits lack of ice time troublesome

by Arpon Basu
BROSSARD, Que. – The passionate Montreal Canadiens fan base was on full display Tuesday night at the Bell Centre.

At one end of the ice, a departed hero from the team's miraculous 2010 run to the Eastern Conference Finals was given a standing ovation after shutting out the home team.

At the other end of the ice, another hero from that same playoff run who is still on the Canadiens was being booed in the waning moments of a 3-0 win by St. Louis.

While Jaroslav Halak most definitely played an integral part during that magical spring two years ago, Michael Cammalleri's role should not be discounted.

Cammalleri led the entire Stanley Cup Playoffs in goals that postseason with 13 --even without the benefit of playing a fourth and final round. What's more, after racking up 10 points in last year's seven-game first-round loss to the Bruins, Cammalleri has an impressive 29 points in 26 playoff games with the Canadiens.


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But he is in the midst of an unproductive season with nine goals and 13 assists in 37 games, one that mirrors the overall lack of offensive punch displayed by the entire Canadiens team.

Cammalleri admitted Wednesday he heard the boos when he touched the puck in the third period of the loss to the Blues, and he said the fans had every right to do it.

"You've got to be sensitive to the fact that Canadiens fans live and die by their team," Cammalleri told a pack of reporters. "So if anything, you can identify with how they feel. They're unhappy, and they let you know it. So I wasn't disappointed; I think more so I probably expected it."

Cammalleri was singled out for two defensive errors that cost his team in that loss, missing assignments on Jason Arnott and David Backes on plays that led to the first two goals for the Blues.

After hinting to the pack of reporters he was unhappy with his amount of playing time by saying, "I'm not playing as much, so I need to get a little work here in practice to stay in shape," Cammalleri later continued the conversation with and a reporter from Montreal newspaper La Presse.

"On the Arnott goal, he was my guy, I wasn't sharp there," Cammalleri said. "But it was my fifth shift of the game and it was the second period. Usually I've made 15 good plays by that point."

Cammalleri was obviously exaggerating to prove a point because the goal came on his ninth shift of the game. But it is true his ice time has dropped significantly since Randy Cunneyworth took over as interim head coach.

Cammalleri played 15:01 on Tuesday night, marking the sixth time in 10 games under Cunneyworth that he failed to reach the 17-minute mark in ice time. It matches the number of times that happened through his 26 full games this season under previous head coach Jacques Martin (Cammalleri played 4:22 when he was injured during the game of Oct. 9).

"I'm used to playing 20 minutes a night," he said

Cammalleri talked about the differences between a team that has a "winning mentality" and a "losing mentality" and how the former doesn't care about its opponent because it has the confidence to beat any team. He says that's what the Canadiens had when they eliminated the top-seeded Washington Capitals and the defending Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins in 2010, and also when they took the eventual Cup-champion Boston Bruins to overtime of a seventh game last spring.

The team without a winning mentality, however, feels it "needs to play perfect to win," Cammalleri said.

When asked whether Cammalleri and his regular center Tomas Plekanec – both of whom were a minus-2 Tuesday – needed to regain his trust, Cunneyworth admitted that might be the case.

"To some extent, for sure," Cunneyworth said. "Each and every night I'm counting on that, and if there's something there I don't like then obviously they're going to see limited ice time. I think their ice time was pretty fair (Tuesday) night and we have to get some production from our top guys, as usual, but they're also out there trying to take care of a solid line that they're opposing so they have to make sure they're good in their own end. If you're not scoring, then you have to be preventing goals the other way."

To make matters worse, top-six forward Brian Gionta, the team's captain, left in the third period of Tuesday's game with what the team called an upper-body injury; the Canadiens said Wednesday that Gionta had successful surgery to repair a tear in his right biceps and will be out indefinitely.

Tuesday was Gionta's second game back from a groin injury that cost him 11 games, and as he went to the locker room television cameras caught him throwing his stick out of frustration.

Gionta's absence further muddies Montreal's forward rotation.

The Canadiens, now No. 12 in the East, need something to go their way in a hurry if they want to make a desperate push for their fifth straight postseason berth.
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