Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy Hour in FLA

That has to be how the Canadiens feel as they fly home to bring in the New Year with family and friends.

Playing their third game in four nights Tuesday, the Habs often looked like they were simply out of gas, which was more than understandable after the big effort displayed in Miami one night earlier in a 5-2 victory.

But that one solid effort still allowed the Canadiens to leave the Sunshine State with two wins, as the Lightning couldn't take advantage of their opponents' obvious fatigue and let the Habs hang around long enough to squeak out a 2-1 shootout win.

That's now five wins in six games for these Habs, all of them without the services of Saku Koivu and Christopher Higgins, and for the first time this season it looks like this group might very well live up to the high expectations that were heaped on them prior to the season.

What was impossible to foresee when those lofty goals were being set over the summer was that it would be the birth of a new energy line that would prove to be the catalyst.

This stretch of five wins in six games coincides with Guy Carbonneau's decision to place Maxim Lapierre, Guillaume Latendresse and Tom Kostopoulos together on a line in a 5-2 thumping of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Lapierre has three goals and two assists, Latendresse has two goals and two assists while Kostopoulos has two assists in those six games. But more important than the numbers, which are quite impressive, is the residual impact the line has had on their teammates by consistently going out, shift after shift, and maintaining pressure in the offensive zone. Those shifts create momentum, they inspire teammates, they demoralize opponents.

Kostopoulos didn't get on the scoresheet Tuesday, but both Carbonneau and Latendresse pointed to his fight with Tampa's giant Evgeny Artyukhin - who knocked Alex Tanguay out of action for the foreseeable future with a left shoulder injury on a legal hit - for giving the Canadiens energy and purpose in the game.

"He was stuck with a monster on the other side, but I know that changed the game," Latendresse told reporters. "It showed the team he was ready to play and we jumped on board with him."

Carbonneau's decision to pick Lapierre and Latendresse for the shootout Tuesday night speaks volumes to how he feels about the impact the Quebec natives had not only on this game, but on the team in general over the past couple of weeks.

"Those two played excellent and allowed us to get back in the game," Carbonneau said. "Sometimes you need to give players like that a chance to show what they can do. Once again, Maxim found a way."

It was around this time last year that Carbonneau's decision to play Alex Kovalev with Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn sparked an incredible second half for the Canadiens. Though Lapierre, Latendresse and Kostopoulos likely won't impact the season in quite the same way, it could turn out to be nearly as significant.

The Habs are in the midst of the toughest stretch in their schedule, one where they play 18 of 26 games away from the Bell Centre. Having a reliable energy line is a valuable resource for Carbonneau on the road.

But having one that's playing like an elite checking line is a major asset, one that might very well send the Canadiens on their way to another great second half.


Arjun said...

Hardest Working Line in Hockey. Needs to be trademarked.

SRS said...

January's schedule is a joke. On the road 8 of 13 but against a lot of really shit teams. 8-3-2 is not out of the question. The time is now to show we can win against opponents that we have typically had trouble "getting up" for. Boston on the 13th should be a biggie. Price has been solid since early November beat downs by Toronto and Boston - points in 12 straight. All this with a powerplay which went 4 consecutive tonight without registering a shot on net. Significant injuries to boot. Things are looking rosie in by books... cause our offensive woes can't continue all season can they? Lang won't be the leading scorer at the end of the year with 23 goals will he?
Happy New Year ya'll!

pmk said...

wow! not sure how that translate onto tv but it was a great game live!
happy new year from FLA!

Arjun said...

I hate that everyone is saying Price copied Usain Bolt at the end of the shootout with his pose. Price thinks he was copying football players. Anyone in Tampa (especially) knows the real reference. That move was pure Hulk Hogan. 100%. In that sense, there was a trash talk element to it. Which I love. I love that our goalie trash talked an entire city (or is it a body of water?) after the shootout.

pmk said...

I forgot to mention the best part of watching a game in TB. The promos - instead of shooting out t shirts from the air guns they shoot out philly cheesesteaks!!! briliant.

Arpon Basu said...

That IS brilliant. Did you catch one?

Chris said...

I see the Hogan-esque overtones -- but -- the Price post shootout move was more a classic move in the style of former PGA star Chi Chi Rodriguez styles after draining a long putt -- although Ch Chi would usually throw in a few swashbuckling sword moves for flair....