Northeast: Cole a strong addition during a weak Canadiens season

By John-Eric Iannicello

Photo: Winger Erik Cole has been a bright spot in an otherwise difficult season for the Montreal Canadiens (courtesy of

Cliff Welch/Icon SMI)

In what has turned into a tumultuous season for the Montreal Canadiens, one bright spot has been the play of a free-agent acquisition, forward Erik Cole.

Cole signed a four-year, $18-million dollar contract (cap-hit of $4.5-million) on the opening day of free-agency last summer in an effort to give the Canadiens more size and skill up front. His deal also included a no-trade clause.

It was a move that had its fair share of criticism based on the term given out to a 32-year-old forward who really only had great success as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes. He had played one season with the Edmonton Oilers in 2008-09, but was traded after 63 games.

The speedy, power-forward has more than lived up to the first year of his contract averaging 18 minutes a night with the Canadiens. He’s tallied 23 goals on the season and is on pace for around 60 points. He’s been a primary factor on the Canadiens power-play, leading the team with eight goals. He’s also brought a good amount of grit to his game, leading the Canadiens’ forwards in hits with 163.

A statistic that can’t be calculated is the game Cole has modeled for Max Pacioretty. The 23-year-old, blossoming power-forward leads the Canadiens in goals with 26 and has spent most of the season flanking the opposite wing on Cole’s line. The two forwards both have similar stature and styles to their game as they both possess speed and scoring ability. Centered by diminutive, skilled forward David Desharnias, the top line for the Canadiens can be a hanfull for opposing teams on any given night.

If his first season is any indication, the Canadiens did well in locking-up Cole this past off-season. He’ll be a key factor as the Canadiens look to rebound in the 2012-13 season.

Northeast Division Notes

Boston Bruins: With Tuukka Rask going down to a groin injury this weekend, the Bruins signed veteran goaltender Marty Turco as depth insurance. The 36-year-old will have to clear waivers before joining the Bruins, and will be ineligible to play in the playoffs for the club. He’s spent the season playing with EC Red Bull Salzburg in Austria. Dropping back-to-back games this weekend, the Bruins will look to bounce back against a team they’ve had great success against this season. The Bruins have dominated the season series vs. the Maple Leafs, going 4-0 this season, and outscoring the opposition 23-6. Tim Thomas has had subpar performances in his last two games going 0-2-0 and posting a 4.04 goals against average and a 0.800 save percentage.

Buffalo Sabres:
Robyn Regehr returned to the Sabres lineup Monday after sitting out Saturday’s game with a lower body injury. The Sabres also used an emergency re-call on rookie Marcus Foligno as they wrapped up their road trip on Monday, but the forward did not play. Tyler Ennis was riding a career-best five-game point streak heading into Monday night’s game – but was held pointless in the contest. Ryan Miller was named the NHL’s First-Star of the week. On Monday, the Sabres dropped an important game in their quest for the playoffs, losing to the eighth-seeded Winnipeg Jets 3-1. They are now four points back in the race for the final playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

Montreal Canadiens:
Tonight’s game vs. the Calgary Flames will kick-off the Canadiens four game road trip which will include stops in Edmonton, Vancouver and Buffalo. Tonight’s game will also be the first time Rene Bourque returns to Calgary since being dealt in January. Veteran defenseman Andrei Markov is making steps towards a return to the Canadiens lineup. He participated in the Canadiens practise Monday, which was his first contact practise since November. The 33-year-old had surgery on his knee in December. No date has been cemented for his return.

Ottawa Senators:
Over the weekend, the Senators failed to gain any ground on the Bruins for first in the division. Like the Bruins, the Senators dropped both their weekend games and are riding a two-game losing streak heading into the first week of March. The Senators will wrap-up their Florida road trip with a game in Tampa tonight to face the Lightning. Ben Bishop was re-called and is expected to start. Robin Lehner was returned to Binghampton (AHL). Erik Karlsson was fined $2,500 for a slash on Sean Bergenheim over the weekend.

Toronto Maple Leafs:
The Maple Leafs announced the signing of forward Mikhail Grabovski to a five-year, $27.5 million-dollar contract extension on Tuesday. The forward was scheduled to become an unrestricted free-agent this summer. Mike Brown is nursing a stiff neck after his fight with Canadiens’ enforcer Brad Staubitz on Saturday. He’s a game time decision for tonight’s contest vs. the Bruins. Jay Rosehill cleared waivers on Monday, and is expected to dress. It is expected that Jonas Gustavsson will start in net after turning aside 21 of 22 shots for the 3-1 win in Montreal.