Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Chemistry 101

Old Faces Back Into the Mix

Injuries that happened an age ago are healing. It appears that many of our walking wounded will be back in the lineup in short shrift according to RDS.

That is if they can crack the lineup...

Guy Carbonneau himself said:
J'aurais des craintes si j'étais actuellement un joueur blessé, a affirmé Carbonneau, lundi. Je saurais qu'on peut me remplacer.

I have this to say to Guy: What on earth are you on about?

A lot has been made of the Canadiens success since the fall of Higgins, Koivu and latterly Tanguay. Since all three have been out of the lineup, the Canadiens have really caught fire. The Lapierre axis has thrived with more ice time and the Kostitsyns have enjoyed some statistical boosts with the centreman Robert Lang.

But does anyone for a minute think that Andrei Kostitsyn surged because Saku Koivu injured his ankle? Does anyone think that Lapierre's line is better off with Kostopoulos instead of that slouch Chris Higgins?

Saku Koivu was by far and away the best player to begin the season for the Canadiens. With him in the lineup, they were doing an able job at keeping up 104 point+ pace. The fact that they have had a winning streak in his absence should do nothing to take away from that.

Chris Higgins had a poor start statistically. However, he is a trusted officer in Carbonneau's game plan. He does everything right (apart from shoot straight, that is) and should easily find a place on any line whose role isn't scoring or perhaps on a line that could do with some energy (e.g., Plekanec's).

Tanguay, for his part is further away from return. His pure offensive know-how should not be taken for granted. And Price, well, he's straight back in as starter.

The casualties

Carbonneau is right about some people about to lose their jobs on this team, but those days were long foretold:

Mathieu Dandenault
for instance, despite his valiant demonstration, will probably find it hard to justify the exclusion of the younger Kostitsyn, Latendresse or Pacioretty/D'Agostini from this point forward. One can only hope they keep up their torrid production and make Dandenault, playoff game 1 starter a more remote possibility.

Georges Laraque might have trouble convincing teammates that won the East without an enforcer that they suddenly need one – as all their best hockey has come when he has been nursing one of his many injuries. On the bright side, at least his salary is being paid by insurance companies and not our ticket revenue...

Steve Begin hasn't done himself many favours lately often managing to be outshone by all of line three and often Hamiltonians as well. He'll see games into the future, maybe not a certain place, though.

And, barring more injuries, Marc Denis will never have as good a chance to make the Canadiens this season as the one he blew when he looked shaky as Halak for a period.

Dilemma (not so much) – The lines to come

Koivu for Chipchura or Begin is not a dilemma, nor is Higgins for Stewart, Pacioretty or D'Agostini in my eyes. The prospects have availed themselves very well, but they are prospects – who hope they could one day be as productive as Koivu or Higgins. They are not contenders yet.

So, onto the changes. Carey Price is back already, with Marc Denis back to the minors to try and win that job back... And, assuming the reintegration will go in stages as expected, we should expect to see Koivu and Higgins the first to return. I would put Koivu back with people he has chemistry with (oh wait, that's almost everyone...), so probably Higgins and D'Agostini:

Pacioretty – Plekanec – Kovalev
A Kotitsyn – Lang – S Kostitsyn
Higgins – Koivu – D'Agostini
Latendresse – Lapierre – Kostopoulos

Pressbox: Begin, Stewart

Hamilton: Chipchura

Then, once Tanguay returns, he refinds Koivu and you could get something like the following:

Tanguay – Koivu – D'Agostini
Higgins – Plekanec – Kovalev
A Kotitsyn – Lang – S Kostitsyn
Latendresse – Lapierre – Kostopoulos

Pressbox: Begin, Stewart

Hamilton: Pacioretty

Health is not a dilemma, but an opportunity. An opportunity to have people on the ice at all times who can threaten to score a goal, not just run down the minutes. An opportunity to make wins and comebacks from a multitude of different situations. And, an opportunity to hunt down those Bruins...

If you see a dilemma, let me know, because I can't.

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