Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Back to where it all began

There are two revivals expected to go down Thursday night at the Bell Centre.

The first is the revival of last year's top unit, as Alex Kovalev skated with Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn at practice Wednesday, and coach Guy Carbonneau essentially said the fortunes of his club ride on whether or not they can find the chemistry they had last year.

"The pressure is now on them to become what they were last year," Carbonneau told reporters after practice. "Our team is going nowhere if our best players aren’t our best players. Those were three important players last year, and they have to become important again."

That really couldn't be more true, because a lot of the lofty predictions made about the Canadiens were not only predicated on that line matching last year's performance, but actually exceeding it because Kostitsyn and Plekanec should be better with an extra year of experience under their belts. As for Kovalev, he's playing for a contract and that was believed to be enough to push him to at least match his production last season, if not push it to greater heights.

Having this line click is really at the heart of everything Carbonneau wanted to do this year because it would have so many positive side effects. It would allow Robert Lang and Alex Tanguay - who skated Wednesday with Matt D'Agostini - to play the secondary scoring role, which is what they were brought in to do. Lang was definitely not expected to lead the team in goals, which is where he sits right now. And it would also bring the power play back into the realm of respectability, which is the biggest reason why the Canadiens are not battling for the best record in the conference right now.

The second revival set for the Bell Centre stage Thursday night is the Canadiens top-six defence, as Mike Komisarek appears set to make his return a little earlier than expected. He still needs clearance from the doctor Thursday, but it sounds as though that will be a formality and he'll be ready to go.

Having him take his rightful place alongside Andrei Markov will slide Josh Gorges down a slot to play the right side with Roman Hamrlik, and Carbonneau says that despite how well Gorges has been playing, we can expect more form him in this role because he will now be more comfortable playing within himself rather than trying to do too much to compensate for Komisarek's absence.

"I think that with Mike back, Josh will be able to play at his best," Carbonneau said, without taking anything away from how he's played in the 16 games Komisarek missed.

If Gorges can take his game up another level, then perhaps that No. 4 defenceman isn't as vital as I and many other people think.

The Habs will be trying to avoid their first four-game losing streak in nearly two years against one of the hotter teams in the league, the hated Philadelphia Flyers, winners of five straight and sporting a 12-1-2 mark in their last 15 games.

The way the Canadiens have shown up for games against teams that appeared to have them over-matched this season, and with the return of Komisarek and last year's top line, I expect the Habs to have a big game Thursday against Philly and snap this losing skid.

Finally, I was happy to hear Carbonneau refuse to take the bait and attack the referees who officiated the debacle in Raleigh on Tuesday night. Though he obviously wasn't happy with their work, he preferred to put the blame on his own guys.

"We’ve been trying to be more disciplined, and last night we weren’t," he said.

That's a refreshing sentiment from a man who spent too much energy his first two years behind the bench berating referees and complaining about them afterwards. Yet another sign that Carbonneau is growing as a coach.


Anonymous said...

Those two clowns last night, Frederick Lecuyer and Brad Meier, have no idea what they were doing. There license to officiate should be revoked.

Anonymous said...

So Pleks, Andrei and Kovy are back together tonight. OK. If thats what the coach wants, I am good with it.

But why announce it to the world before the game. Wouldn't a move like this - one that Philadelphia figured out how to combat in the playoffs - have more impact if we just sprung it on them tonight so they don't have a chance to organize a game plan for it. The element of surprise works wonders in most every other competitive situation, so why don't we use it tonight.

My theory is that management have to announce it to appease those fans who have been slagging this team over the past couple of weeks (and those others who have jumped on their bandwagon after 3 losses) in attempt to cool things off so everyone can go about the business of preparing for the game.

I have proposed before that negativity, panic, over-reaction by fans/reporters has a big impact on the team. Even if that impact is indirect. And the impact is almost always negative. Negativity, panic and over-reaction feeds on itself and management has to do things to address it even when those things can actually harm the team. Negagtive, panicked and over-reactive fans/reporters actually help to create the very situation they are negative, panicked and over-reactive about.

People are free to do and write what they want. God knows if I am we all should be. So go ahead. Just know that you make a difference and can help the team spiral up or spiral down. Your choice - be part of the solution or part of the problem.