Friday, July 18, 2008

Habs Review 2007-08:

Saku Koivu

The numbers

77 GP: 16 G, 40 A, 56 Pts, 93 PIM, -4, 150 Shots

Career best year – 2006-07
81 GP: 22 G, 53 A, 75 Pts, 74 PIM, -21, 154 Shots

2007-08 playoffs
7 GP: 3 G, 6 A, 9 Pts, 4 PIM, +1, 17 Shots

Career best playoffs – 2003-04
11 GP: 3 G, 8 A, 11 Pts, 10 PIM, +1, 27 Shots

Plays of the game: 14

Game pucks: 15

Domes: 47

3 Star selections: 5 First, 4 Second, 4 Third

The story

Where he started the season
Saku was coming off the best statistical regular season of his career, as he set personal bests in both goals (22) and points (75). His previous best had been 21 goals and 71 points in the 2002-03 season. One thing that stands out to me about those two seasons is that those are the only two years that we have missed the playoffs since 2001. Koivu turns it on when there is a lot at stake, so it is no surprise that in a year in which we missed the playoffs by just one point he was our points leader. To him, that season was one long playoff series in which we lost the '7th' game, if you will. I feel that if we were to coast into the playoffs you would see his points go down as he would be spending his time perfecting other areas of his game in preparation for the post-season. I guarantee you, however, that it was the non-participation in the playoffs of that season that burned in Saku's mind during the off-season and not the career-best 75 points.

In Ryder and Higgins, Koivu had found his best linemates since Savage and Recchi (Zednik and Kovalev were considered, but that lasted a mere 20 games). The season would start with tons of promise for the Habs top-line. They had all enjoyed fantastic 2006-07's so there must have been a feeling of excitement to get back at it and get just 1 more win to book a playoff ticket. The captain was healthy, happy and hungry to put a disappointing year for the team behind him.

The season
Saku could not have started the season better as in the first game of the year, against Carolina, he played the hero. He scored 2 goals in that game including the game-winner in OT. Saku kept up his great play throughout October posting 14 points in his first 12 games. He was also a +6 in those first 12 games which was very encouraging after going a career-worst -21 the year before. However, after that first month, Carbo shook things up a bit and it seemed to hurt Saku's production.

When Ryder was demoted from Koivu's line, auditions were held for the vacant spot and it would take quite some time. Eventually Sergei Kostitsyn stepped in as the player to replace Mike alongside Sak and Higgs. For the next 44 games, however, Saku only had 25 points which I feel is an unfair assessment of how he really played. Koivu was the true professional during this whole process and continued to play very good hockey, he just wasn't getting the points at his usual pace. Once the adjustment period was over the new line eventually clicked and finished the year very strong. Koivu had 17 points in his last 21 games and 9 in just 7 playoff games. It was during the playoffs that Koivu was at his best – and was by far our best player (as usual). Unlike so many other players, Saku saves his best for when we need it most and, as usual, he delivered in the most critical of situations. Coming after three tedious months of doubt and criticism, the playoff coup de grace was as much of a pleasure for these bloggers as it must have been for Koivu himself. Ultimately, like us fans, Saku probably won't remember these playoffs in a positive light, given the outcome and the failure of the rest of the team to jump the intensity up like he did.

Highlights: No offence to Jakob Dylan, but Saku deserves the Bowie original here. Substituting the Wallflowers for Bowie is like substituting Koivu's highlights for Bulis'

Koivu by the numbers:

Lions' links on Koivu:
Koivu doing Montreal proud
Kovalev Koivu Selanne
New Canadiens website
Daniel Briere = Not Jean Beliveau
Sans dix pourcent
Introducing Koivu, Habs announcer
How the Habs keep powering their PP
Plan K: Turning around the Canadiens fortunes
Habs losing – Overreacting for the cause
Some Thoughts on Loyalty
Why We Value Koivu
Koivu Misunderstood Not Forgotten
Experts Share More Wisdom
Reasons to Believe: Updated
Reasons to Believe: Shattered
Sundin: A Move Too Far?

Grade: A-
The only downside to Koivu's game this year were the 93 penalty minutes. Obviously, he didn't cost the team too badly, as we still finished first. But that number is still high. One thing I was happy to see, however, was that Koivu ended the year with only 4 penalty minutes in his last 9 games and only 2 in 7 playoff games. This to me showed that he worked on a known weakness and obviously had some success at improving upon it.

On the positive side, Koivu's play in the playoffs was absolutely phenomenal. He missed the last 4 regular season games and the first 5 playoff games with a broken foot, but when he came back you wouldn't have known he had just missed a month. He was instantly our best player when he returned and turned around a Boston series that seemed to be going the wrong way. He got a point in each of the 7 games he played in during the playoffs, which again proves just what a clutch performer he is. If he didn't even play in the regular season and only played in the playoffs I would still see his value. You cannot beat 'big-game' excellence and that is precisely what Saku brings us year in, year out.

Aside from the spectacular and the negative, the rest of Koivu's play could only be described as efficient and extremely reliable. By efficient, I mean that Koivu does not waste energy. Unlike some fourth liners who put on an amazing show of effort, but come away with little more than a sweaty red face on the bench to show for it, Koivu gives exceptional effort which leads to puck control and offensive penetration. I really start to notice his efficiency most in tight game situations, where he is constantly the better of the two centres on the ice. The criticism he receives throughout the regular season comes because he sometimes gets overshadowed by big performances from other players like Kovalev and Plekanec. But, his consistency is such that though he may not be the star we remember in a big comeback or narrow win, he is rarely outside the top 4 or 5 performers on the team on a given night. It's hard for numbers to really bear this out.

Where we'd have him next season
Saku will start the year as our #1 centre yet again, a position he has owned for about 10 years now. The captain will finally have to find a new permanent winger as his on-again, off-again partner (Ryder) is now gone. Tanguay may just be that scorer that Koivu needs. With Koivu, whose passes are world-class (I firmly believe that he is one of the world's 10 best playmakers), Alex will be good, but how nice would it be to see Koivu play with a player like Selanne (a world's 10-best scorer) once and for all.

We all know the type of success that Saku has had when playing for Finland, so I think that it is time we get him that winger he deserves and show the league just how good of a player he really is. It remains to be seen whether Tanguay can be this player, or if someone else might be acquired before the puck drops in October. One thing that you can count on, however, is that no matter who Saku plays with he will be one of our best players all year and will continue leading this gifted team to bigger and better things.

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