Thursday, April 2, 2009

A winning combination

It would be easy to dismiss Thursday night's 5-1 slaughter by the Habs in Long Island as a simple case of taking advantage of a horrendous team, one ravaged by injury and missing its two best players.

But that would be unfairly taking away from what appears to be taking shape on the Canadiens, and that's a winning combination.

First off, as bad as the Islanders are, the Habs have been just as bad on the road this season. They entered Thursday's game with a 15-19-3 record away from the Bell Centre, so when you put that up against the Isles' 16-15-6 home record, it made the apparent mismatch a little more even.

But that doesn't take into account this is a different Canadiens bunch, one that finally believes in themselves, one that has perhaps the hottest line in hockey and three other support lines who understand their roles and fill them happily.

It is truly remarkable how the makeup of this team has changed so drastically because of a little line tinkering, especially considering how many different line combinations have been tried this season. But after all that juggling, the one Bob Gainey came up with to put his three best offensive players together has paid massive, season-saving dividends.

With three assists from Alex Kovalev, a goal and assist from Saku Koivu and a goal from Alex Tanguay, that's 28 points for the trio in the five games they've played together. Not coincidentally, the power play has gone 10-for-30 and the team is 4-0-1 over that span.

Of course, not all of that success is directly attributable to one line, but I would argue that indirectly the play of the Koivu line has made the entire team play better. One thing the Canadiens were definitely lacking while the lines were being juggled on a nightly basis was that they were unable to sustain any pressure in the offensive zone.

Now, with the Koivu line joining the Maxim Lapierre line as units that can pin the opposition in their end, everyone benefits. The defence gets to worry about holding the blue line instead of clearing the front of their own net, which leaves them fresher when the play finally makes it down into their end. The goalies aren't under the constant pressure they faced back when the Canadiens couldn't complete a pass or even touch the puck on some nights. And the lines waiting for their turns on the bench get inspired by these momentum-gaining shifts.

Now, before we get carried away, there really is a limit to how excited you can get about a win over the Islanders. But the way the Canadiens are playing right now, I would say they are becoming a scarier first round playoff opponent every day.

1 comment:

Habitant d'Ecosse said...

the Habs "becoming a scarier first round playoff opponent every day"

be afraid

be very afraid.....

I hope!