MONTREAL -- He was almost home free.
Three quarters of the way through his chat with the media and no one had asked Jim Playfair about the struggles of Alex Tanguay.
Then the Montreal media piped up.
They said Tanguay is having trouble learning the new system.
"That's too bad, huh?" replied the Calgary Flames head coach.
They asked how long will it take for Tanguay to adapt.
"It's taken five games and I don't think it should take any more," answered Playfair, who has had to deal with a similar line of questioning more than a few times back home.
They questioned the bench boss' patience with the $5-million left-winger, probably testing it all the while.
"Absolutely, (I'm) a very patient coach," Playfair kindly responded on the eve of tonight's match against the Canadiens (5:30 p.m., FAN 960, Pay-Per-View).
"It's about teaching, educating, reinforcing and demanding. We're moving through that process. We try and do that each and every day with our group.
"I'm a very patient guy," he added, paused, then added "... when you work."
And there's the $5-million question: Is Tanguay working hard enough to get out of his mental funk?
It's the first time he's been in the spotlight as an elite player and it can't be easy hearing people wonder whether his past numbers came on the coattails of former Colorado Avalanche teammates Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Milan Hejduk.
Last year, the product of Ste-Justine, Que., rarely played with Sakic and Hejduk and still netted 29 goals and 78 points. Only eight of those 29 goals were with the man advantage. So he's capable of a recovery.
"He's a skilled player, he's a veteran player," said Playfair. "It's about leadership and work. Alex is capable of both and we expect both."
Tanguay is now playing with Matthew Lombardi and Chuck Kobasew.
His young linemates had arguably their best games of the season in Toronto Saturday and Tanguay hopes he can snap out of his funk and make that 'secondary scoring unit' as dangerous as possible.
"We had some little sparks in the game where we actually played real well as a line," said Tanguay. "If we're all skating and moving well, we're going to create a lot of chances out there."
Lombardi had a goal and an assist Saturday and Kobasew earned his first helper of the year as the trio started to gel. Kobasew and Lombardi have a history of chemistry and it could be a good fit for Tanguay, too.
Before the Hockey Night in Canada contest, Playfair talked about the trio working the give-and-go and being aggressive -- suggesting the occasional offside wouldn't be a bad thing.
They had their moments. And their offsides.
"You don't want to promote that but that's how you help reinforce what they're about," said Playfair.
"They have to establish an identity where they're a threat every time they're on the ice to create offence with their speed. And speed,
I don't mean circling and hoping and wishing, I mean straight ahead where they've got a real clear focus on, 'This is how we've got to get the puck to the net.' "