Sunday, March 16, 2008

Koivu Misunderstood Not Forgotten

Catching up on the weekend blog reading I saw a lot of material wrth commenting on, particularly the potential Sundin trade, Halak's play and this one article on Saku Koivu. I thought I'd touch on Koivu first, quickly.

Over in Habs World, TC Denault wrote a long article about the Habs purporting that Saku Koivu is a forgotten man this year. After rehashing all the success from the season from various new and old faces, he introduced Koivu in the following way:

Strangely, quietly, lurking in the background of this the Canadiens most celebrated season in recent memory, has been the man who up until this year had been the Canadiens most celebrated player. In this year of memorable moments; the comeback against the Rangers, the dominating of the Devils, and the crushing of the Bruins, he has had a year to forget, a year which has seen his role, his status, and his contribution to the team decline.

Admittedly, he does go on to try and say positive things about the captain, just about coming to the conclusion that Koivu has had a slump or two. However, I feel I just can't let his introduction of Koivu slip by without explaining why I am at polar opposites on Koivu here.

First of all, there the memorable moments. Hard to dispute that The NYR game was a special comeback, but aside from that game, Koivu has figured in memorable games this year too.

The first game of the year, Koivu scored two goals, including one in OT to take a win. While some may have forgotten, it was a thrilling game, certainly fitting into the highlight category. Fast forward to game 12, and you'll see Koivu scoring another important goal, as well as setting up a beauty. It would be the first game in our equally important domination of the Flyers, one in which Koivu outshone the returning hero Briere. Koivu led the Habs to that great start while putting up the most points on the team through the first months.

Next, enter Koivu the Misunderstood. After a compulsory period of general overall scoring difficulty, Carbonneau began to dismantle lines. Amazingly, he found that Andrei Kostitsyn was better than Guillaume Latendresse and slotted him onto the Kovalev line with Plekanec. What started to happen in November with acceleration in late December when someone told Andrei Kostitsyn to shoot, was the emergence of a new scoring line on the Canadiens.

What is interesting here is to witness what happened to Saku Koivu over this period, and perhaps to understand how his role was just as important for the resurgent Canadiens as was Kovalev's over those 15 games late in 2007.

While Kovalev was beginning to find some touch off the PP for the first time, Saku Koivu was asked to play patient leader and teacher with a steady rotation of players. Ever constant, was that players (other than Michael Ryder that is) would start to produce once they got to play with the slick passing Finn. First Latendresse began to look like an NHL prospect again, next Dandenault was scoring, then Streit was getting plaudits for forward play and finally Sergei Kostitsyn comes up and makes the bridge to the NHL look easy.

This period of the season and beyond has demonstrated that although his role may seem to have changed, in reality it is the same role he has been playing for more than a decade: making young, inexperienced or less skilled wingers into legitimate top-line threats on the Canadiens.

When I watch Koivu play, I still see the strength on the puck, the balance, the quick passes on the rush, the passes I never would have thought of, the goals when they're needed. I see the penalties he takes, but also those he draws with his stealthy physical style and those drawn by teammates thanks to him creating compromising situations for the opponents with his skill and passing (note that he is on the ice for more penalties drawn than taken).

As the playoffs loom, and the Canadiens enter into important game after important game, I think you'll all be seeing what I have as Saku clears this misunderstanding up on a nightly basis...

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