Monday, October 29, 2007

Keeping an Even Keel

I think the title of this post is some sort of sailing term, whereby a sailboat is kept from rocking to and fro by a steady hand upon the keel. Whatever that is.

A good analogy for all our good friends in Habland, no? Both for those who have been longtime passengers on the bandwagon, and those scrambling to get on.

To be sure, it certainly does look good:
  • #1 power play in the land
  • #5 in the Hab-hating TSN power ranking
  • Points all around, sprinkled like fairy dust upon checking line forward and highly paid sniper alike.
  • Plekanec and Kovalev making beautiful plays, instead of one mystifying the other like last year.
  • Kovalev still on pace for a 40 goal season, 1/8 of the way through the campaign.
  • Andrei Markov: quite simply, the bargain of the year. Second in scoring, multiple game winning goals, and ice time leader. All for millions less than Zdeno Chara.
  • Youngsters Grabovski and especially Chipchura looking right at home in the NHL.
  • Even Kostopolous turning his play around, without benefit of a benching.
  • Mathieu Dandenault, opportunistic forechecker extraordinaire? May the surprises never cease, at least of the pleasant variety.
But let's not get too giddy. The Habs looked pretty good early last season too. Then came Christmas, and the Habs seemed to take an extended holiday season. All the way through the off-season. Off course, a major injury to Huet and a a flu bug that wouldn't go away didn't help either. Plus Kovalev's vertigo. Chalk last season up to Murphy's Law. Or was it Ironic? Alanis has me all messed up.

But I'll take one small, savory sip from the goblet of satisfaction: maybe those who have called for Carbo's head will give him a reprieve, hopefully for the year. Surely his mixing and matching has worked to a certain extent, even if I'd still like to see Kostitsyn instead of Latendresse night in and night out.

Still, while the offense has been a revelation (especially the distributed nature thereof), I take issue with the defense. Many a game has been either lost or nearly so when the Habs take the early lead and then try to nurse it. They simply don't have the defensive talent to do it, it seems. Some examples:
  • Habs blow 3-0 lead over Pittsburgh, before Price puts the entire team on his back and wins in the shootout.
  • Habs take 5-1 lead over Carolina, but then let them creep back to within two goals before sealing it with the empty netter.
  • In Ottawa, they manage to scramble back to tie it at 3-3, but then give it away seconds later with 6 mins left in the game.
  • Habs have a slight 1-0 lead over Florida, but are otherwise dominating. They allow a late game tying goal, and then lost in the shootout.
  • Habs take 3-1 lead over Toronto, but end up losing in OT to the Leafs of all teams. Ugh.
Some of it I think is due to personnel. As much as I love Mark Streit, we really have four 3rd tier dmen: Streit, Bouillon, Gorges and Brisebois. Not much we can do about that in the short term. They're all doing well enough, but the average ice time is telling. Hamrlik, Komisarek and Markov average between 21-25 minutes. Whereas Brisebois, Streit and Bouillon average 17.5 to 18 minutes.

But we can improve the defense up front. In the Carolina game, Carbo juggled lines late and put Chipchura on the first line between Higgins and Ryder, dropping Koivu back to the fourth line.

But something a little more structural might be needed. To that end, I reiterate my call to bring back Max. He's a hard working, forechecking, get-under-your-skin little bastard, and would be perfect with any combination of Begin, Dandenault, Chipchura, Smolinski and Kostopolous.

Of course, this would boot Kostitsyn, Grabovksi and/or Latendresse from a regular slot. And while Grabovski has added some offensive punch, the rest haven't done a whole lot (although Kostitsyn hasn't gotten much of a chance lately). Plus, we seem to have enough offense to go around lately. Just need to tighten up on the defensive side.

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