Thursday, October 16, 2008

The buddy system

Though the Canadiens didn't have a whole lot to be proud of despite getting a win in their home opener Wednesday night, one thing Guy Carbonneau could not have ignored was the play of Maxim Lapierre.

While I've always thought Lapierre was a useful player, I must admit I never thought he'd be an effective agitator because he's just not gritty enough. But based on what I saw Wednesday night, I believe Lapierre may be in the process of forging a new identity for himself.

He was all over the ice against the Bruins, beating guys to loose pucks, getting physical on the boards and, most importantly, using his speed to its full advantage. The play where he beat out Patrice Bergeron in a one-on-one battle which ultimately led to Lapierre's shorthanded goal was created solely by his speed.

Bergeron, based on where Lapierre was when the puck was dumped into the Bruins end, didn't treat the situation with the urgency it warranted, probably because he didn't believe anyone could get there so fast to bother him. Next thing he knew, Lapierre was rubbing him out on the boards to get the puck back to Markov, and then he was watching Lapierre bury a puck behind a sprawled out Tim Thomas.

Bergeron never knew what hit him.

If Lapierre can keep this up at centre, he makes that fourth line extremely effective. I don't know of too many teams that can line up so much speed on a fourth line, with Mathieu Dandenault, Steve Begin and even Tom Kotsopoulos armed with some pretty good wheels. Having speed like that makes dump-ins far more comfortable, because the defencemen can throw it deep with a pretty good assurance that one of their guys will get to the puck first.

Speaking of Dandenault, it's becoming increasingly clear that he has a role to play on this team, and a pretty important one at that. Dressing him allows Carbonneau to have a seventh guy on hand to play defence in a pinch, and Dandenault's pairing with Lapierre on the penalty kill was very effective against the Bruins, albeit their power play is not the most potent in the league.

Meanwhile, Lapierre's good buddy Guillaume Latendresse is fortifying his spot on Saku Koivu's line, and it will be interesting to see what Carbonneau does with that line in practice Friday. Koivu was kept out of Thursday's practice as a precautionary measure (the injury kept him from playing in Wednesday's overtime), and Higgins was lined up between Latendresse and Tanguay. I'm assuming Koivu will practice Friday, at which point we'll know what Carbonneau decides to do.

I can't really see why he would break up this line right now, especially since adding Higgins to Robert Lang and Sergei Kostitsyn makes that line so much stronger. Koivu and Tanguay really benefit having a guy with Latendresse's size on their line because of the space he creates when he plays physical, as he did on Wednesday (he was credited with a team-high six hits). Higgins doesn't have that element in his game, but having him play opposite Sergei should really make teams dizzy and it would complete what has already become very well-balanced attack.

In fact, the line that's having trouble keeping up right now is the one that carried the team for much of last season. I don't know how many times Carbonneau said it last year that his team had grown too reliant on Tomas Plekanec, Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn to score. If that line happened to have an off night, which didn't happen too often, the Habs were in trouble.

So far this year, the Habs haven't needed that line to dominate because the other two scoring lines are putting numbers on the board. Granted, Koivu's line has stockpiled most of its points in a single game, but this new balanced attack is already paying huge dividends as the top line takes its time hitting fifth gear.


pierre said...

For most NHL players summer is the only time they have to try improving on their skills.... while most veterans might be just cruising from one season to the next.... most youngs are hard at work doing drills and focusing on the mechanics of things in the summer.... being a fan of a young team is particularly exciting in that respect.... specially in october when you get to realise that some of the player's habilities have risen to a higher level of execution..... and Lapierre, as you pointed out about the last game has made it clear that he is one of them.

It still early but we can see he is at least an improved version of his former self..... one of the few players to add weight to his frame in the summer.... he his stronger, faster and just as quick as when he was lighter.... he initiated a fight against Flyer's Downy... something he might not have done those last seasons.... he is more secure about is strenght.

I agree with you that players possessing speed and toughness are nearly ideal pieces from which 4th line models should idealy be built upon.... when together they can exploite the dump-in scenario better than most... and come back in a hurry whenever needs be.

Else Lapierre, other players I noticed to be improved version of themselves at this early stage are Price, Kovalev and Latendresse.... unlike Lapierre which has gained weight those players came in weighing significantly less than they were last season..... a really appreciate the summer commitment of those players and the differences it made in their respective ways are allready rather noticable.

As time and actions progress will get to see which of our player's personal arsenals might have improved during the summer.... I am shure some might surprised us with better puck control habilities.. others with better shots.. others with better focus about their roles.... the season is still young in that regard.... never mind that we havent even seen some of our players at all yet.

All we know for now is that we look good on paper and that our team's play will be much better in 10 days than what it has been thus far..... the team's practices at the Bell will make shure of that.... so will the return of Bouillon makes.... even more so Higgins.

Anonymous said...

Love the Habs and their "Habilities" Pierre. Well said!
I see much so much mechandising potential. Hagility, Hability and Heart = Habs. Copyright it quick!

pierre said...

I didn't notice the play on word..... I'm to busy just trying figuring out if my english written text is comprehensible enough to start with.... but for play on word I like Arpon Basu Daily '' Hab-it '' the best.... a great title.. and yes, a great blogger to matched it... my favorite connection to the Habs.... and most '' habit-forming '' destination I know of short of the Bell Center.

Arpon Basu said...

Now this is what I like to see, some blog banter! Love it!