Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Here comes the backlash

If it hasn't started already, I would imagine it will get going full force today.

Habs nation will look at Guy Carbonneau's decision to move Guillaume Latendresse "down" to a line with Robert Lang and Sergei Kostitsyn as yet another affront to the Golden Boy.

Of course, you wouldn't want to bring the topic up with Guy Carbonneau, who somehow feels it's offensive that anyone wants to talk about his line combinations. For a guy who played most of his career in Montreal, his attitude Tuesday when he was asked about the move is curious, to say the least.

But let's look at why the move was made. The number one reason has nothing to do with Latendresse at all, which is why it's so unfortunate this will likely be painted that way. Christopher Higgins and Saku Koivu have a pretty successful history together, one that spans the better part of three seasons.

That may not sound like a long time, but look around the league and you'll find very few instances of two players spending that much time on the same line, mainly because of player movement.

That chemistry between Higgins and Koivu was never something Carbonneau wanted to mess with, but the extended absence of Higgins due to his pre-season groin injury forced his hand. When the Koivu line got off to a fast start with Latendresse on left wing, becoming the team's most effective unit, there was no way Carbonneau could break it up when Higgins finally returned.

But Higgins' return already had an effect on Latendresse's playing time, namely on the power play, and the onus was on Latendresse to respond with some production five-on-five. He hasn't done it, and that's why Carbonneau is able to make this move.

That shouldn't be seen as an indictment of how Latendresse has been playing, and I think Carbonneau would tell you the same thing. He's been a lot more involved physically this season, sitting second on the team with 33 hits, which is 18th in the league. He's also been a lot less of a liability in his own end, though he still has some work to do on that area of his game.

Playing with Lang and Sergei Kostitsyn, or "Serge" as Latendresse dubbed him last season, could be a good thing for the Golden Boy, especially since Lang likes to play the same kind of cycle game he does. Latendresse also said himself Tuesday that he will feel very comfortable going to his new linemates and voicing his opinion about what's going on during their shifts. I'm not so sure he felt quite as comfortable doing the same thing to the team captain and Alex Tanguay.

Latendresse needs to keep doing the same thing he was doing with Koivu, namely playing a physical game along the walls, where he excels. But when he doesn't have the puck or isn't fighting for it, I feel Latendresse needs to do a better job establishing some net presence and show a greater willingness to take some abuse to do it.


Yves said...

I think that Latendresse playing with Lang and Sergei could be really good for him.

I think that he still gets to play with guys who can move the puck well.

So far, I've really enjoyed the effort that Guillaum has put into his game. I'm really hoping he continues to play hard and physical.

pierre said...

For some reasons the CH's formula has been to laid back so far..... this team needs to create more turnovers and use their speed better to do it.... if they do scoring opportunities will go on the rise.

In that regard the Koivu line now with Higgins should be a success with their quickness and offensive spirit.... they will lead and be emulated by the other lines and our game as a whole will be much better for it..... its du time for this team to start out-chooting its opponents.