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Carbo confident Russian will rebound
Saturday, December 09, 2006

When the Canadiens were in the market for a free-agent forward last summer, winger Sergei Samsonov didn't appear at the top of general manager Bob Gainey's shopping list.

Now we know why.

Gainey signed the Russian left-winger to a two-year, $7.05-million contract last July 12, after apparently failing to entice Jason Arnott, Patrik Elias, Jeff Halpern and Brendan Shanahan to come north. Gainey reportedly offered Shanahan more money to sign with the Canadiens than he accepted from the New York Rangers.

We'll never know how any of the quartet would have fared in Montreal, but it's unlikely any would have struggled as much as Samsonov. As he prepares for tonight's game against the Buffalo Sabres at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., RDS, CJAD Radio-800), the 28-year-old veteran from Moscow has four goals and 12 points in 28 games.

Indeed, Samsonov hasn't scored in 18 games - the longest slump of his nine-year National Hockey League career; his last goal coming Oct. 28, when he scored twice in a 5-4 shootout loss against Toronto. That performance came days after Samsonov sounded off, suggesting he only could produce by receiving lots of ice time and playing on one of the team's top lines.

Samsonov is averaging a shade less than 15 minutes a game and remains on the Canadiens' second line, with Alex Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec. And for this, he's being paid $3.525 million annually.

With few options at forward, coach Guy Carbonneau has no choice but remain patient with Samsonov.

"He's proved in the past he can score and get lots of points," the coach said. "Until I'm proven wrong, this still remains an 82-game season.

"Players get into funks, where the puck's not going in or things aren't getting done. And then they go through a stretch of 15 or 20 games where they're getting some points back and they're at the same total at the end of the year.

"At least he's doing a lot more (on the ice) than he used to. Everyone's on his back. But he's got what, 13 or 14 points? He's still among the top six or seven scorers on our team. But his frustration is mounting. He's not happy, obviously."

Samsonov has scored at least 20 goals in five seasons, including 2005-06, when he produced 23 goals and 53 points with Boston and Edmonton. But he's on pace for only 12 goals and 35 points. That would be his lowest total since 2002-03, when a wrist injury limited him to eight games.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't take this home with me and think about it. It's not a healthy part of the job," said Samsonov, one of a dozen players who participated in an optional practice yesterday at Verdun Auditorium. "Anybody who goes through such a long slump begins to wonder.

"But I've been doing this a long time. You have to find confidence in yourself. It all comes down to playing the game. If you think too much, you're setting yourself up."

There have been times, Samsonov said, when he figured he was about to score. He'd beat a goalie with the shot, but a defenceman would make the save. Or the puck would strike a post. But there also have been nights when the 5-foot-8, 188-pounder has been largely invisible. Samsonov has only 47 shots in 28 games. On this week's two-game road trip, he was held to one shot against New Jersey and two second-period shots against the Islanders.

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