Andrei out 6 weeks, Habs not scoring: Where do they go from here?

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Up to a few weeks ago, the Canadiens have a legitimate excuse as to why they were struggling. Injuries were plaguing the line-up left and right. Number one defensemen, first line players, roleplayers, no one, except for the goaltending, it seems, was safe.

It's safe to say that the Canadiens made the most with what they had. Currently sitting in 8th place in the conference 48 points in 47 games (22-21-4), the Habs are overcoming the expectations that many had when this team was healthy, yet alone for a team that actually played a few games with only half of their regular line-up.

With more than half of the schedule complete, many would argue that the Canadiens are still banged up. Andrei Kostitsyn is out for 6 weeks with knee surgery, and his brother Sergei is day-to-day with an ankle injury. Georges Laraque has an ''upper body injury'' (surprised?), and others, such as Paul Mara, may not allowed prior injuries to fully heal. These players and more are certainly benefiting from the 5-day break between Saturday's game against the Devils and Thursday's upcoming game against the Dallas Stars.

But five days isn't going to change much. The Canadiens problems are still glaring. Defensive lapses are still going to hurt the Canadiens, the goaltenders are still going to be overworked, and the forwards are still going to have trouble scoring.

Needless to say, something needs to be done.

A trade in the works?

I would be a fool to lead anyone to believe I had the inside take on any rumors or potential trades, but that doesn't mean we can't infer what Bob Gainey will be trying to do for the rest of the month and in February. This teams need a top six forward, and odds are they're not going to get it from the farm team in Hamilton, as good as they're playing.

Gainey has certainly proved to be somewhat unpredictable in the last couple of years, but he certainly has to be seeing the same things we're seeing on the ice. While the Pouliot - Gomez - Gionta line has been clicking lately, the once red-hot duo of Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri is now ice cold, both pointless since New Year's eve. Their current linemate, Matt D'agostini, is a far cry from Andrei Kostitsyn, who was on a point-per-game basis with the duo in the month of December, before his injury.

While Andrei's injury may be know excuse for no points between the two in 4 games, you can certainly tell that they need some help, and with the added obstacle of a two-week trade freeze during February's Olympic Break, Gainey would be keen to try and pick up a rental sooner rather than later, when trade talks intensify. Among the list of pending UFAs who might be on the market, and who might be a fit with the Habs in the short term, are the following:

- Ilya Kovalchuk: A pipe dream for the Canadiens, who may not have much to trade for him (if he indeed does get traded, the 50-goal scorer would be the perfect fit on Tomas Plekanec's wing. Unfortunately, Gainey doesn't have the cap money to keep him here next year, nor do we know if Kovalchuk would even want to play here. Gainey may not be wise to trade for him unless he can clear some extra cap space in the process.

- Paul Kariya: Maybe just another small, old forward, but the 36 year old has an incredible pedigree, including Lady Bing Trophies, All-star appearances, 100-point seasons, and much more. Despite having a bad season, coming off a write-off injury year last season, he may be good fit with the Habs.

- Olli Jokinen: Rumored to be headed to the Habs several times in the past, Jokinen doesn't seem to be fitting in in Calgary. On pace for one of his worst statistical seasons ever, Darryl Sutter and his brother may be looking to ship him off before the deadline, and he would certainly provide a lot of size for the Canadiens.

-Ray Whitney: The Hurricanes forward may turn out to be the most saught-after forward next month. Nearly a point-per-game player over the last few years, the 37-year-old could provide a decent offense boost to most teams that aren't as bad as the Hurricanes. Trading for him now, while things are still quiet, would be a great move (and he's fairly cap-friendly).

- Saku Koivu: I wasn't sure if I wanted to go here, but he is a pending UFA on a team that won't make the playoffs...

-Alexander Frolov: The odd-man-out in LA, the russian winger has played with Mike Cammalleri and would complement the first line nicely. With fellow Russian Andrei Markov on the team, he could be convinced to re-sign with the team as well.

- Colby Armstrong: Not a big scorer, but a big, strong, versatile winger that can score key goals every so often. Would be a good plug-in, and I could definitely see him clicking with Cammalleri.

- Eric Belanger: Cheap, French Canadian, unlikely to make the playoffs with his current team in Minnesota. Again, not a big scorer, or a big player, but might be a good fit.

This is just a short list of a few pending UFAs who might be a good fit with the Canadiens. Will any of them end up with the Habs? Knowing Gainey, he's more likely to go off the board and pick up a player no one ever expected, or even not pick anyone at all.

One thing's for sure, the Canadiens need some help. They're not scoring, and the goaltenders are going to start getting worn out. They simply need to start scoring more goals, and win a few games by large margins, something that hasn't happened all to often this season. A plug-in from Hamilton is just that, a plug-in, and if leading scorers in the Hammer such as Brock Trotter and David Desharnais, or even Ben Maxwell or Mathieu Darche haven't been brought up yet, over the checkers we've seen in Tom Pyatt and Ryan White, they probably won't be called up now.

We'll see how the situation is handled in the coming days and weeks, but rest assured, if the Habs can't manage to score more than 2 goals in the coming games, something WILL happen.

Who do you think the Habs will be eyeing as the trade deadline approaches?

MONDAY MORNING READING

- Montreal Gazette: Slapstick rules by Dave Stubbs on Habs famous jokesters.

- Habs Eye on the Prize: Halak vs. Price December stats by Chris Boyle. MUST READ.

- Montreal Gazette: Playoff Hunt Intesifies as Habs rest by Pat Hickey. Habs watch as teams with games in hand play their games.

- Canadiens.com: Habs this week. Thursday vs. Stars, Saturday vs. Sens, Sunday @ Rangers.

More to come,

Prax
www.thecheckingline.com
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