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Forward thinking

Monday, 08.10.2007 / 3:14 PM / News
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Forward thinking
Mathieu Dandenault scored his first goal of the season on Saturday against Toronto.
MONTREAL - It’s a “problem” that most coaches likely wouldn’t object to and it’s in its second incarnation this season in Montreal.  More defensemen than there are spots on the blue line, so take one and move him up as a forward.

First it was Mark Streit in 2006-07.  This year, the honor goes to Mathieu Dandenault.  The 31-year-old has been honing his skills as a winger to start the season, lining up with Steve Begin and Bryan Smolinski to form a trio that has stood out in the first two games, thanks to the offensive opportunities they’ve generated.

“We’ve had a lot of chances, even going back to the last preseason game in Ottawa,” said Dandenault.  “I’m getting a lot of shots, a lot of good, open shots and chances.  It’s just a matter of being there and burying them.”

While most are familiar with Dandenault as a defenseman, he was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the second round in 1994 as a forward.  His final year in junior, he racked up 107 points (37 goals, 70 assists) in 67 games.

“I think sometimes people see me as a defenseman playing forward but it’s not something new to me to be around the net and getting some scoring chances.  That was my job,” admitted Dandenault.  “It’s just getting back into the mix, being around the net, since I haven’t been there in a while.”

The Sherbrooke native knew exactly where to be on Saturday night, when his first goal of the season opened the scoring against the Maple Leafs.  It was a combination of speed and hard work that led to the tally and that’s exactly what head coach Guy Carbonneau likes to see.

“It always goes back to working and doing the right things in the right place at the right time.  They’re three guys that may not be the most offensive players but they get a lot of chances because they work,” said Carbonneau.

For Dandenault, the work as a forward doesn’t just end in five-on-five situations.  He’s been skating up front as part of the first penalty killing unit as well and knows full-well the advantage of his versatility.

“I think, as a coach, when you have a guy that can create some stuff offensively, and then let’s say there’s an injury, can go back and play defense, it’s a good thing to have in the lineup,” noted Dandenault.

The veteran knows that in addition to his adaptability, one of his biggest assets is his wheels.

“I just have to use my speed and when we get an opportunity to jump and go after them, then that’s what we’ll do.  Don’t let them set up.  I think we did that well in Toronto,” he said. “I’m just going to keep on learning and get more confidence and just get more ice time and help the team as much as I can.”

Judging by the results so far, it looks like Carbonneau may have hit the jackpot once again.

Heather Engel is a writer for canadiens.com