Thursday, October 30, 2008

A vote of confidence for Mad Max

At this time last year, Maxim Lapierre was being taken down a notch with the Hamilton Bulldogs after having coasted through training camp, largely because he believed his spot with the Habs was secure. He was, after all, being pasted on billboards all over the city, so who could blame him for thinking he was a big part of the team's plans?

Lapierre was a different player at this year's training camp, having learned his lesson the last time around, and now it appears he's solidified his position as the team's fourth-line centre.

La Presse beat writer Francois Gagnon reports that Guy Carbonneau can't remove Lapierre or Tom Kostopoulos from the lineup because they've "earned their spots," which is why Steve Bégin, Georges Laraque and Ryan O'Byrne will watch tonight's game in Minnesota from the press box.

I can understand Carbonneau leaning towards playing Kostopoulos every game, especially after what he showed in last year's playoffs. But Lapierre? He has earned that kind of trust based solely on his play this year, and it's been exemplary.

His line with Kostopoulos and Mathieu Dandenault was probably Montreal's most effective Tuesday night, and has been on several nights so far this season. Now, it should be noted that it's easy to say a fourth line is doing its job because there's no statistical way to really judge that. Carbonneau can talk until he's blue in the face about how happy he is with the play of the Tomas Plekanec line, but the fact remains that if they don't score, they're not doing their job.

Lapierre's line's job is to pin the opposing team in their end through strong forechecking and a methodical cycle game. Any goals that come of that are a bonus, but the Habs have benefited from a few power plays because of the frustrating play of the trio.

Add to that the fact Lapierre is winning 55.9 per cent of his faceoffs - second on the team and way better than his 49.1 per cent clip last year - and Lapierre's value becomes even greater.

Having said that, this is shaping up to be bad news for Bégin, and he's really done nothing to deserve it. Though Carbonneau didn't say it, it's pretty obvious that Dandenault and Lapierre are developing some chemistry together, especially as a pair of speedy penalty killers. So when he says that Bégin, Dandenault and Laraque are fighting for one spot, it essentially means Bégin will be the odd man out more often than not because neither he nor Dandenault are fighting Laraque for anything.

By that I mean Laraque obviously brings a different element to the table than either Dandenault or Bégin does, and so far it looks like Dandenault is squeezing Bégin out of that high-energy, forechecking, shot-blocking winger role, especially since he's also a seventh defenceman in a pinch.

Bégin is a great guy who gives everything he has for his team, and he loves playing in Montreal. I hope this isn't the beginning of the end for him, but it very well may be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

begin has been one of my favourite energy guys in recent years (one of the true team players in the game) but when you say he's done nothing to deserve a place in the press box i have to say he's done very little in general. i have yet to see that spark that made him a valuable asset on the ice and our pk is improving with each game despite the fact that he's not in the lineup. so, where does that leave him?