Wednesday, January 07, 2009

No Respect

Sergei Kostitsyn Evaluated Unfairly, Considering

Last game was Sergei Kostitsyn's 87th in the NHL, 2 years ago at this time, he was lining up beside Sam Gagner and Patrick Kane on the London Knights.

It seems that these two little pieces of information may have gotten lost in the brief prepared for RDS commentators Benoit Brunet and Pierre Houde, not to mention Joel Bouchard and Jacques Demers. They were particularly harsh on him two games ago, and then gave him little credit following a plus 4, 2 assist night on the de facto best line of the night.

It is especially interesting when you juxtapose Sergei's "plight" against the "return to dominance" of teammate Guillaume Latendresse. Guillaume for his part had a very good game a couple of night ago (his 184th in the NHL). In fact, he has had a good string of games. But all in all, his season has been no better or no worse really than Sergei Kostitsyn's.

A look at their stats will show you that both players are in the same neighbourhood:

Kostitsyn 35GP 6G 9A +4
Latendresse 31 GP 5G 9A +3

Last game, we were told that along with Molson Cup winner Lapierre, Latendresse was a stand-out for December. A look again shows that Sergei kept pace here too:

Kostitsyn 10GP 3G 2A E
Latendresse 9GP 3G 1A E

If I look to subjective records, such as 3 stars, I find that Sergei had a first and a second star game, whereas Guillaume only had one mention – a third star (in the non-Bell Centre rankings that is*)

The two players, in a nutshell, have both had dry spells and boons, benchings and streaks. Yet one is left wanting for praise and the other has his name singing from the pressbox.

What's up?

My take is that it all comes down to expectations and a certain flexibility and generosity in the setting of them. Expectations for Sergei are set rather high, given the way he took to the NHL last season and the way he led the team in playoff scoring. Guillaume, in contrast, has commentators lauding his capable checking and occasional goals from the third line.

Personally, I think this is a bit unfair. While I do agree Guillaume is turning a corner and we must acknowledge his actual potential and adjust our expectations, I feel Sergei is not being given the same lee-way. I would think that it's time to accept certain things about Sergei in order that we judge him in a fair light:

1) He is being thrust into uncomfortable situations at a very young stage of his career. While, it's natural for us fans to holler at the TV for greater PP success. It is hardly reasonable to expect a 21-year-old forward barely a year into a career to man the open point and turn the PP around, certainly not without a bit of a grace period to learn the position.

2) He tries things on. By this I mean he tries to be creative to take the defenders by surprise. Sometimes this means he makes a move and his pass hits a shin pad for a clearance. Given time to develop, it could mean great things.

3) He's still learning NHL defence. As we said, two years ago he was in junior, on the highest scoring team, on the highest scoring line. He didn't come in with a feel for NHL defensive play, and a season is an awfully short opportunity t perfect the task. That said, he still earns the coaches' trust on the PK, which is more than you could say for some of his peers.

So, if you're reading this Ben or Joel (ha), the next time Sergei lines up on the number one offensive unit, on the ice for 4 goals for and none against, perhaps you two could offer him a bit of slack, and hey, maybe even praise (not of the backhanded nature, like that montage of him last game). And Joel, if you insist on naming him every time a player goes down with injury as THE PLAYER who must step up, it might be nice if you recognised his 100-game older teammate as well.

Finally, for the love of everything sacred, we don't call you guys Benjamin, Peter, Jack and Joe; do you think you could extend yourselves to the point you might at least show his name some respect and stop calling him Serge?

* Does anyone know where one can get hold of the three stars that are announced after the Canadiens games at the Bell Centre. In my calculations from the "official" NHL archival rankings for December, Lapierre comes out tied third with 8 points, behind both Andrei Kostitsyn and D'Agostini on 10 each.

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