Wednesday, September 03, 2008

First Line Set in Stone?

Alex Tanguay may be the most boring interview since Jason Ward, but he's no fool. At the Canadiens golf tournament, he found time to get involved (at least indirectly) for some lobbying for time beside Saku Koivu on the team's "second" line (from RDS):

Tanguay, 29 ans, dit ne pas connaître les intentions de Guy Carbonneau. Il semble toutefois acquis qu'il entreprendra la saison dans le trio de Saku Koivu complété par Chris Higgins ou Sergei Kostitsyn. Celui d'Alex Kovalev, Tomas Plekanec et Andrei Kostitsyn est coulé dans le ciment.

Tanguay's doesn't know Carbonneau's intentions. It seems he was acquired to join Saku Koivu's line with either Chris Higgins or Sergei Kostitsyn. The Alex Kovalev, Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn line is set in stone.

I for one, would love to see Tanguay with Koivu – he has deserved a winger of this calibre with some NHL experience ever since Recchi was dealt away. But, that doesn't mean I think it has to be.

I think it is a bold claim for anyone (even a reporter from RDS) to claim any line will be set in stone. From what we know of Carbonneau is that he enjoys his freedom and flexibility more than he enjoys knowing what to expect. I don't think it would be highly unusual, if, for instance, Carbonneau shuffled the deck a bit in the early stages of the season.

If I were the coach, I would be happy leaving either Kostitsyn or Kovalev with Plekanec (as they both enjoy his centering) and make it my priority to get Koivu producing like he can (and did in the playoffs). Why not Andrei Kostitsyn, Koivu and Tanguay, for example? Or Kovalev with Tanguay and Koivu? Even Koivu, Higgins and one of the two?

What Tanguay does is bring a credible productive option to the top two lines – which sadly Michael Ryder could not in the end. Where Tanguay and the other wingers fit with Koivu and Plekanec should be based on how both combinations fare, not necessarily just the one.

Incidentally, I also see a few reasons why the Kostitsyn-Plekanec-Kovalev line could be broken up, though:

1) None of the combinations Kostitsyn-Plekanec, Kostitsyn-Kovalev, Plekanec-Kovalev is a true one-two punch. What they are is a group of three talented individuals

2) Andrei Kostitsyn grew over the whole year and looked like he was ready for more responsibility by the end of the season. Using him as the third member of a top line may not be the most efficient use of his skills and effort

3) Koivu, if he can bear it is 50% more productive at even-strength with Kovalev, Plekanec does his own thing at even-strength (Kovalev does not affect his rates)

4) In the playoffs, this line was fully containable by a couple of mediocre-at-best sets of forwards. This is worrying, to say the least; and we do not want a repeat. Finding playoff-worthy lines during the season this year might be a help.

5) Tanguay has had his best success in the past with trigger men. Perhaps Tanguay-Kostitsyn could be a new Tanguay-Hejduk

6) If we get another centre as is being discussed (Sundin at best), there would be little point hoarding the two best scorers/shooters (probably the three, if you think about it) on one shift

Finally, I would note that I do not like the Kostitsyn brothers together on the same line. Too much altruism there – neither seems to want to shoot. Though they did do well in the Boston series (mainly right out of the gate), I thought the two together were a pretty big disaster for the most part. For me, they almost cancelled each other out. Given their potential to make other complementary players better (Koivu, Plekanec, Kovalev, etc.), I don't see why a nostalgic brothers together approach would be pursued. The stats from the regular season also seem to bear this out (check here for A Kostitsyn's success at even-strength with other Habs), as they were less productive together and atrocious defensively.

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