Friday, September 28, 2007

The third line

Now for the third line, often known as the checking line. These are the guys that don't get much glory, very little by way of ESPN or TSN coverage. But they are essential. If defense wins Cups, then our checking line has got to have it all working.

Last year, the Habs had a decent third line. It revolved around Radek Bonk at center and Mike Johnson at right wing. A lefty and a righty, and they formed the core of one of the best PK's in the league -- at least for the first half of the season. And even when season began to collapse right around Christmas, the Habs maintained a pretty good PK rating. It was only later in the season did that slide as well.

And maybe it was this slide that made Bob think they were expendable. Neither was resigned, with Bonk going to Nashville and Johnson still a free agent. Bob got replacements for both, and for a lot less: Bryan Smolinski and Tom Kostopoulos.

Of the two, I think Smolinski is the bigger addition. Some have wondered whether TK will end up on the third or fourth line. I haven't seen him play, but I think the only person to displace him from the third line would be Maxim Lapierre. Chipchura's too much of an unknown to get more than 4th line minutes, and Latendresse isn't a guy I would pick to help shut down an opponents' top line.

So I have TK on the checking line's right wing, although it's all by virtue of reputation. With my extreme Habs' blinders on, I've never seen the dude play. Never even heard of him before Bob picked him up.

On Smolinski's left is the more important piece: Steve Begin. He's a heart-and-soul type. Leaves it all out on the ice, much like Bouillon and Lapierre. In fact, he leaves a little too much out there, as he was oft injured last year. I don't think any other Hab blocked shots as frequently as Begin did.

Begin is also a lefty, complementing Smolinski's right-handed shot, so the two of them will make a nice first PK unit. Begin also can play center, meaning that he can take important defensive zone draws on the PK, in case Smolinski gets booted. Smolinski can then feel a bit more comfortable in being aggressive in the faceoff circle. Begin will have his back.

Begin is one of my favorites. I want to see him get more ice time, and playing with a veteran playmaker like Bryan Smolinski.

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