Second-year scoring itch for Kostitsyn

 

Sergei Kostitsyn was a bit of a rookie revelation for the Canadiens last year after scoring nine goals and assisting on 18 more during 52 games after being called up in mid-December.

 
 
 
 
 

Sergei Kostitsyn was a bit of a rookie revelation for the Canadiens last year after scoring nine goals and assisting on 18 more during 52 games after being called up in mid-December.

In a dozen playoff games, he added three goals and five assists.

But after 10 games as a sophomore, Kostitsyn is finding the scoresheet a little more difficult to find.

"Maybe I've been a little unlucky," he said yesterday, his words about as few as his points. "I'm working. I'm happy with my start."

Surely he's not overjoyed, with two goals and two assists heading into tonight's game in Columbus vs. the Blue Jackets (7 p.m., RDS, CJAD Radio-800).

After a five-day break, the Canadiens plunge back into action with two games in two nights. They face the Maple Leafs tomorrow in Toronto, where they will be featured on Hockey Night in Canada as part of the Hall of Fame weekend.

Goalie Jaroslav Halak gets the start, with Carey Price in the net tomorrow.

The Air Canada Centre might help jump-start Kostitsyn, who scored twice and added an assist in Toronto in the Canadiens' second game of the season. He assisted again in Philadelphia two nights later, but has been firing blanks since and is pointless in his past seven games, without a shot in three of them.

Kostitsyn, 21, will line up tonight with centre Robert Lang and winger Guillaume Latendresse, and he'll happily settle for a goal no matter how ugly.

"Off your leg or your head, it doesn't matter," Kostitsyn said.

Head coach Guy Carbonneau won't call the sluggish start a sophomore jinx. But. ...

"That second year is always tougher because you think a little bit more," Carbonneau said. "(Defenceman) Ryan O'Byrne is in the same (situation). Last year, they were playing hard to gain a spot. Now they're playing not to lose a spot. Your thinking is different. If something doesn't work one day, it's like, 'My God, what's going to happen?' Sergei just has to keep working hard.

"Everyone knows he has talent and vision, but I always say that talent and skill aren't going to work if you don't work. He's got to get back to working."

Carbonneau drew a comparison with centre Tomas Plekanec, who soldiered through a tough spell before scoring twice and adding two assists last Saturday in a 5-4 comeback win over the New York Islanders.

"Tomas never let down," Carbonneau said. "He worked every game and practice, and stayed after practice to shoot pucks, trying to do things the right way. Now we see the result. Sergei has to do the same thing. And Ryan."

"It's natural," the coach said, that Christopher Higgins would be reunited tonight with Saku Koivu, having played virtually his entire Canadiens career as the captain's wingman. Alex Tanguay completes the trio which Carbonneau believes will be "dangerous. ... I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do."

The shuffle moves Latendresse, who has one assist in his past five games, onto a line with Lang and Kostitsyn.

"That Chris was hurt (missing the first six games with a groin injury) gave Guillaume the chance to play on that line," Carbonneau said. "I've said before that (Lantendresse) has more maturity and more confidence and I hope that will continue with Robert and Sergei."

The coach expressed great satisfaction with the play of Lang, a veteran presence whom he described as unfailingly positive and helpfully talkative with his linemates. Higgins is delighted with his move, impressed too with Tanguay's forechecking and puck pursuit. His groin isn't 100 per cent, "but it's pretty close," he said. "I have my good and bad days with it, I guess, but it's definitely fine to play."

The Canadiens (8-1-1) take a 3-2-1-1 lifetime record against the Blue Jackets into tonight's game. Columbus (5-6-2) scored a 3-0 win on Bell Centre ice last Feb. 23, a result carefully filed by defenceman Mike Komisarek.

Nor does Komisarek forget the gruesome 4-1 hole the club dug itself against the Islanders last Saturday before scrambling to its 5-4 victory.

"Columbus came in here and spanked us pretty good at home, embarrassed us," he said. "That's fresh in our mind, things like that you don't forget.

"We've been pretty good on the road (4-0-1), but we know we need a better start than we had on Long Island. Everyone knows we're a talented and skilled team and we have a lot of guys who can put the puck in the net and create offensive plays. But when we're working as a group, we're a really tough team to beat."

 
 
 
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