Sunday, February 1, 2009

A window of opportunity?

It's pretty difficult to draw anything positive out of the injury that is likely to end the season of Robert Lang suffered during the Habs 3-1 loss to the Bruins on Super Bowl Sunday, but I'm going to give it a shot.

First of all, if indeed Lang has torn a Achilles tendon, his season is over and his ability to continue his career is very much in jeopardy. I wouldn't necessarily call that tragic, because that's a word that shouldn't really apply to millionaire hockey players, but it's a very sad turn of events for a guy who seemed to get a second wind in Montreal and proved to be far more valuable than he was expected to be.

But how will the Canadiens continue without not only their leading goal-scorer, but someone who played a key role on the power play as the right-handed shot who set up on the left side of the net? Guy Carbonneau used Bryan Smolinski in that role last year and loves having a righty there for one-timer opportunities.

Can Maxim Lapierre now play that spot? Not sure, but he may get a look. Bob Gainey can try to replace that right-handed centre on the trade market, but those guys don't exactly grow on trees, especially not when the market is at a standstill like it will be for at least the next three weeks.

But forgetting for a moment that Lang shoots from the right side, I see this is a window of opportunity for Tomas Plekanec and, to a lesser extent, Christopher Higgins - the underachieving poster boys for the Habs.

Plekanec has been playing better ever since he was threatened with a benching down in Florida, but now is the time for him to try and emerge and prove his worth as a top-six forward as he continues to try and earn a big raise this summer. I still don't believe he's appropriate for that kind of role, but if there was ever a time for him to prove me wrong, this would be it.

Perhaps Carbonneau would like to try Higgins at centre now that Lang has gone down like he did in last year's playoffs during the absence of Saku Koivu. Higgins played centre in college, and maybe this would be an opportunity to show the organization what he can offer in a pinch.

In any case, these are two prime candidates to step up with the new injury problems that have suddenly arisen, because the apparent shoulder injury to Guillaume Latendresse looked as though it would cost him some time as well.

Meanwhile, injury problems or not, down a goal in the third, Carbonneau decided it was time to send a message to Alex Kovalev by benching him for all but three shifts over the final 20 minutes. Though the coach said after the game that his team will need Kovalev at his best to make a push, I'm not so sure this was the way to do it. I understand the need to make a point with a player, and I understand Kovalev has been very artiste-like of late (in the negative sense, which is how the nickname was actually born). But down a goal in a statement game with the goalie pulled in the third period, is that really the time to play Tom Kostopoulos instead of Kovalev?

If Carbonneau indeed hopes to have Kovalev pick up his game, calling him out in front of his home fans and a national TV audience in a big game probably wasn't the way to do it. But the coach is definitely right when he says the Habs need Kovalev at his best to have any hope of success over the home stretch, so Carbonneau needs to hope he didn't lose him for good with that benching Sunday.


Anonymous said...

Carbonneau can't be afraid of benching Kovalev, no matter how poorly he plays. If an indifferent Kovalev gets his ice time no matter how poorly he plays, what message does this send to the rest of the team?
I've been a fan & defender of Kovalev for years but this act is getting pretty tired.

Arjun said...

The Bruins are the new Devils. I can't believe how boring that game was. It was honestly boring. Having attended Super Bowl weekend games the last few years, the crowd - the young crowd waiting to explode - just never did. Because the game was boring. My kid was bored and he admitted it by about the middle of the second period. Another thing I noticed: Koivu kept shooting high on Price during warm ups. Not on Halek. Just reading the body language there was definitely something going on between the two of them.

Yves said...

This is definitely the time that Higgins needs to prove his worth... and Plekanec step up also.

The recent injuries will cement both Pacioretty and D'Agostini in the lineup for the remainder of the season.

I loved Lang this year... always seemed intense on the bench... consistency followed him pretty much his entire career.

I'm wondering if Lang going down may spark Gainey to attempt to pull the trigger a bit more.

Yves said...

Just found this... seems as though Guillaum's brother also injured his shoulder... and his (Olivier) season is over.

Anonymous said...

As far as I'm concerned, the best-case scenario for the Habs this year is to hope they slide out of play-off contention and deal Kovalev at the deadline for some future prospects. I've been a defender of Kovalev over the years, too, but he's worn the patience of this team and its fans. His occasional brilliance simply doesn't make up for the discouraging influence he brings to the team when he plays so terribly.

That three of the best-performing Habs were seriously injured on the weekend shows that fate has decided what sort of season this will be for them. If the playoffs start slipping away, Gainey should trim the UFA fat and pick up some young talent for the future....