Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Try a little (less) tenderness

Sergei Kostitsyn being relegated to the press box was no big surprise, but Guy Carbonneau likely caused a brain aneurysm or two among the Montreal media today when he announced that Guillaume Latendresse will be joining Sergei for tonight's game with the Atlanta Thrashers.

I've got to admit I like listening to sports talk radio because it gives me a sense of what fans are feeling, and I try to get a good sampling in both French and English. Over the past few weeks I've noticed the same polar opposite opinions regarding Latendresse on each side of our linguistic divide - excuses from the French side and over-the-top trade demands from the English side.

Just last week, I listened to 45 minutes of callers complaining on CKAC that Latendresse isn't being used properly by Carbonneau, that he just needs a chance, that he does other valuable things on the ice despite his poor numbers and, this one's the kicker, that Carbonneau has something against Quebec-born players.

Latendresse has shown some degree of development this season in that he's hitting people again, which is why he made the team out of junior in the first place. That, admittedly, is a valuable commodity on this team.

But Latendresse was expected to do more this year, and Carbonneau said as much in training camp when he proclaimed that he had a job among the top nine forwards and would be counted on to provide offence this season.

In his first seven games Latendresse received at least 14 minutes of ice time six times, and the one time he didn't was his most productive game of the year with a goal and two helpers in a 6-1 win in Toronto. That game launched a four-game point streak for Latendresse as he rode shotgun with Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay.

But if you wipe that four-game stretch off the books, Latendresse has a goal and an assist this season with a minus-3 rating, and that's simply not good enough. His legion of apologists will say that he hasn't received time on the power play, and therefore isn't getting a fair shot. After all, he only has one fewer point that both Kostitsyn brothers, and they see tons of power play minutes.

I would counter that both of them showed last year they can be effective players on the power play, but Latendresse's continued unwillingness to plant himself in the goalie's kitchen and take abuse is what keeps him from getting those special teams minutes. That's all the more disappointing because Latendresse said earlier this year he wanted to pattern himself after Tomas Holmstrom and become that immovable object in front for the Habs, but his tendency to drift into the high slot waiting for a one-timer instead of just wreaking havoc in front remains unchanged.

This is not to say that Latendresse will not one day become an effective player, because he still might. To those people who would love to see him sent down to Hamilton I can guarantee you one thing - he would never clear waivers because any team would grab a 230-pound, 21-year-old with soft hands in an instant.

The unfortunate part of this decision is that while I think Sergei may get a wakeup call, Latendresse may simply begin further questioning himself. He's already not the most instinctive player on the team, and I'm beginning to wonder if anyone on the coaching staff has told him what exactly they expect from him.

It's a pretty simple formula: continue the strong play along the wall, but add a good dose of net presence to your repertoire. Doing it is not difficult, it's the willingness to do it that's the tough part. Otherwise every team would have a Holmstrom, or a Ryan Smyth, but they don't.

The Canadiens were hoping to have a guy like that this year, but that guy will be sitting in the press box tonight.


Anonymous said...

i just don't think tender has the mentality to be that guy. I hope he proves me wrong though someday.

On another note - whats your view of Lang? I CAN'T STAND him. He's soft, slow, and lazy. Plus he doesn't win faceoffs. I'd really like to see chips up soon but i doubt its gonna happen. Personally i think we have become to easy to play against and i think a 3rd line of higgins - chips - dags/ sergi would be a nice change of pace to the three soft fancy boy lines we have now...

Arpon Basu said...

I'm a bit torn on Lang. The faceoff thing is frankly baffling me, because Carbo keeps sending him out for big ones and he loses nearly every one. He even takes them with Saku on the ice on a power play, and that just boggles the mind. Other than that, he's probably been the Habs most consistent player aside from Koivu, the only problem is that he's consistently ordinary. He'll never be spectacular, and he'll never be garbage, he'll always be somewhere in between. I just hope Carbo gives someone a chance on the PP and save him for 5-on-5 play, I think he might actually benefit from having a bit less ice time.

pierre said...

Difficult, as usual, not to aggree with your comments Arpon.....

The only time I saw Lats impersonating Holmstrong in enough of a believable fashion to be worth a comment about it is during those pre-saison games that he played on his first and his second training camp with the big Club.... it really worked for him, scoring few goals on both occasion while most of them being of the ugly (some hurtfull) variety as expected in those situations.....
he did it for himself then and got promoted for it...... he clearly doesn't have the balls required to do it on a regular basis..... he hasn't earned PP time because of it and now even ice time is being taken away from him since nothing else has worked so far.

He is slower than the Mule and Homstrong, he doens't have the talent of the fomer and neither does he have the courage of the later.... he got size but shows reluctance to drop the gloves.... he hits big but hitting late rarely create panic and puck turnovers while his puck protection abilities on the other end doesn't seem that special either.

His value is definitly a question mark at this point but to be fair his scoring stats when 5on5 being very positive when compared with the other players in the team do seems to suggest better things than what some of us are seeing...... he would make matters so much easier for us all if he could just parked himself in front of the net and face the rubber for a while..... his proscratination to do so is I believe the reason beind him being benched tonight .... will it be convincing to him enough to change ? I believe it will..... for a period of time.

Sliver24 said...

Hmmm, I likely would have gone with Try a little Tender-less but I guess people might have thought the Habs were playing without a goalie ;)

I was surprised when I read that Lafaiblesse is only 21 though. I would have known that if I ever stopped and thought about it, but I never did. He's quite the young whippersnapper. If only they'd left him in Junior and he was playing in the A right now...

As for Lang, don't count on him coming off the power play. He's a right-handed shot which makes him the best option on the left side.

Finally, Arp, I think if you look closer you may see that Carbo uses Lang for faceoffs, even when Saku's on too, only on a certain side of the ice, as opposed to in certain situations. In the devensive end you'll see Lang taking draws to Price's right (The Price is Right?) and Koivu on his left. In the opposition's end that'll be reversed.

Arpon Basu said...

That's very astute sliver, but if you lose the faceoff, what's the point in having him as a situational guy? The situation becomes meaningless if hed loses the faceoff, which he often does.