In his brief time here in Montreal, Jacques Martin has found our best line. On his ten question exam, that was the first problem, the giveaway warm up one.
And while it's a "well done" to Jacques for discovering that putting the 39 goalscorer with duo that combined for goals galore and Cups in the past, it wasn't exactly a headscratcher.
What was and remains a headscratcher was/is finding out how to get some offensive production from his lower lines, most specifically his wingers. The problem of making his team hard to defend against (something which they have proved they are not when facing the better teams in the league).
After 12 regular season games and 8 in the pre-season, Jacques should be starting to get a feel for some of his assets beyond the obvious big three. What he might have noticed by now is that Plekanec is a very good, if temperamental, player. He may have noticed that Andrei Kostitsyn is the only forward from the remaining group who can beat a player one on one and certainly the only one who can stare down a goalie who has set his feet for the save and score. He may have noticed that Latendresse has hands but needs a big brother to push him into the role he seems reluctant to take. And he may have noticed that the rest of the guys deserve credit for their effort, but aren't going to a big part of the solution to the scoring problem in the long-term.
Today we have news that good old Jacques is shuffling the deck. And while the Francois Gagnon's of the world will be infuriated that Andrei Kostitsyn appears to be getting rewarded for his lack-lustre production. As always the one-eyed critics miss the point entirely.
This move isn't about rewarding Andrei Kostitsyn in the least. It isn't about the individual players at all. What it is about is the search for the chemical equation that will yield two good offensive lines from a list of 12 possible reagents.
I have to say I am in full agreement. i think the time for rewarding Travis Moen for working hard or rewarding Max Pacioretty for not being a sulky Belarussian has come and gone. Sooner or later, Jacques had to look beyond sending messages to a couple of players and begin sending the message to the league (and us fans) that the Canadiens will be a team to be reckoned with.
The more astute among you will have noticed that these changes actually happened between periods 2 and 3 of the last game when Martin swapped Cammalleri for Kostitsyn straight up. The most astute readers will remember that based on some reason and statistical precedent, this was the first line that we all thought should be trotted out as number 1 (or 2, if you consider centre 1 and winger 1 will now be united).
I'll just refresh the memory as to why we thought it might make sense in the first place:
1) Kostitsyn and Plekanec no longer work well together.
They didn't all last season, they haven't in the first spell this season. Don't ask me why, it's just so. Might as well work on another combo
2) Gomez and Gionta (the unbreakable duo for now) both shoot like crazy.
Their default setting is shoot, even Gomez's passes are often shots. It made less sense, to me anyway, to add another shooting machine to the line. After all, who would be the puck holder, who would challenge the goalie to think that a pass might come instead. Cammalleri was successful on the first line, but looking at his goals, a lot were self-made and many were quick shots that happened to come off. What we have seen against good teams is that they can allow the shots (knowing they'll come) and set their minds to cleaning up the rebounds.
3) Kostitsyn is in all likelihood the second best (if not the best) shooter on the team in terms of accuracy and quality of release.
At the end of the day, this will probably translate to more goals than 15 of the group of 18 forwards. In short, he's a top goal threat. So no matter what his attitude to mucking it up in the corners may be, it is in the interest of the coaches to potentiate this asset. Allowing him his first experimental run with Scott Gomez is a logical step in the experiment to get him firing again.
If he's found the way to play Kostitsyn on a scoring line without Plekanec, Jacques still has to figure out which of the young French Canadian duo is the goalscorer.
PLaying Maxim Lapierre on line two is a nice plaudit for the young man, which he deserves after last season, but come April it would be surprising if his name were to be found above that of Guillaume Latendresse when you sort the stats for goals scored.
Max is a lot of things, plucky, committed, competitive, spiny, energetic; but he won't ever be mistaken for a goal-machine. That's not to say that Gui will ever be said machine. However, with Plekanec's smoothe passing and Cammalleri's machine-gunning pucks at the net, the quicker hands should win the day here.
If it's not to be Guillaume, Maxim is still the wrong choice in my books. The place beside the top scorers is more suited to wingers like Pacioretty and D'Agostini, so Lapierre can get back to doing what he actually does well.
And, not to nit pick, but this is only questions 2 and 3 on Martin's exam sheet. There's that whole defence to work out next. Maybe once he gets to it, he'll even realise that Hal Gill is not a defender for every type of opponent and that he should get hold of the ear of his GM to mention that spare money kicking around because he hasn't replaced Markov.
Although I'm fairly convinced that some of the reasons I put forward these lines in the first place were right, I would hesitate to say everything falls into place this evening against the Hawks.
Once again, a little bit of patience is required. Both Gomez and Gionta have been good, but will need time to acclimatise to having a puck-carrying and more discerning shooter at their sides. Ditto Plekanec, who will have to adjust a bit to the frantic pace of a Cammalleri shift.
I tell you what though, if this works, then teams like Pittsburgh will have to think twice about trotting out Martin Skoula to defend the line Kostitsyn's on.