Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Bring back Max, part III

There's been some interesting talk around the Habs recently, most curiously stated by Guy Lafleur, my childhood idol. He said that the Habs roll out four fourth lines. Now, that's a wee bit exaggerated. I don't think Koivu, Kovalev, Plekanec or Higgins belong on a fourth or even third line. But on a team with the talent of, say, the Senators, they'd be doing a lot of second line work.

There was also some discussion over at the Theory of Ice along the same lines. For those of you not familiar, the Theory is the pre-eminent Habs blog out there today. Interestingly enough, Jeff (the author of the equally good, but now retired Sisu Hockey), commented at length about what he saw as some warning signs.

To sum up, he pointed out that Smolinski's line was Carbo's first choice for lining up against the opposition's top line. Koivu's line was second. So this explains to a large degree why Plekanec's line has been feasting, while Koivu's not so much.

Gainey and Carbo don't have many options. Like Jeff said (and Lafleur exaggerated), we don't have many legitimate checking line forwards. Begin and Kostopolous tend to be agitator types. Chipchura, Latendresse and Grabovski are all young, and need to learn the nuances of defense and other player's tendencies. Smolinski is a crafty, but not getting any younger veteran. Dandenault is trying to re-learn his forward position.

On talented teams, the above seven would be fourth liners. It's hard to admit it, but it's true. But this is the hand we've been dealt (although I still don't understand why we didn't keep Radek Bonk and Mike Johnson). So how to go forward?

I've complained about the Habs inability to keep the lead. On the most recent Theory posting, e posts some interesting stats about late game leads. And given Jeff's point about Koivu's line playing as a second checking line, I wonder if what we really need is a solid, second checking line option.

This would free up Koivu's line to play against third and fourth liners. Well, at home anyway. On the road, we wouldn't have the last change, so it wouldn't work as well. But it should still help I think, esp on line changing during the play.

We don't have a lot of options, given the player personnel listed above. But of those, the weakest links on defense are clearly Latendresse and Grabovski. So I say (again) bring back Max. He proved last year that he's got some defensive chops. And if he can't shut down an opposing forward, he can sure get under their skin (see every game vs Crosby) and provoke them to take a bad penalty or two. And since Murray has been gone, there's been a roster spot open.

I'd see those two checking lines going something like this:

Carbo might even be tempted to switch Smolinski and Lapierre, if only to keep some veteran/rookie balance. Plus, you'd get an all French Canadian line. Tabarnac!

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Somehow Habs GM seem to have missed what should have been big news: Ilya Bryzgalov placed on waivers by the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks, and subsequently picked up by the goalie starved and division rival Phoenix Coyotes.

This was a real stunner to me. It's well known that the Ducks were stacked with talent between the pipes. I think the Ducks could have won the Cup with either Bryzgalov or Giguere last year. In fact, Bryzgalov played the early rounds until Giguere was ready to come back.

I can understand not wanting to keep him, maybe for salary cap reasons. But why not trade him? Placing a player of his caliber on waivers almost guarantees someone will pick him up, and you get nothing in return -- except the salary cap space.

And Brian Burke had to have known that Phoenix would be licking their chops (like a rabid coyote?) if they had the chance to grab Bryzgalov. After all, this is the same team that signed David Aebischer to a free-agent contract. I feel bad for Abby and how he imploded last year, but man, that's desperate.

And what has Bryzgalov done since landing in the Valley of the Sun? He's won every one of this three starts, after the Coyotes got shut out by the Sharks back-to-back. It's only three games, but he's got a 1.30 GAA and .952 save percentage -- including a shootout win over his former team last night. That's gotta hurt.

What would Habs GM have done? Try to swing a deal to an Eastern Conference team. The East teams most in need of goaltending help would be the Leafs, Thrashers or Lightning. Maybe Burke would have gotten only a draft pick or two out of the deal. But at least it would be something. And then he'd only have face his former goaltender once every other year, instead of potentially 8 times or more with the Coyotes.

And I thought Burke was a genius for putting together that Pronger trade. Maybe Stanley Cup hangovers affect GM's too.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Ryder about to bust loose?

There has been some talk on various Habs related sites about Michael Ryder. Some of the glass-half-empty crowd seem to ignore the Habs' hot start, almost 1/5 of the way through the season. Some question why Ryder should be on the first line, or even call for trading him altogether.

While he is prone to some outright silly plays, he is still the lone, legitimate sniper the Habs currently employ. When he forgets that, he tends to go into his prolonged slumps. But when he awakens, we see why he has led the Habs in goals scored the past two seasons.

The last game against Buffalo was illustrative of these two sides of Michael Ryder. On the downside, he seems to sometimes think he's the second coming of Alex Kovalev, trying to deke and fake out opponents while carrying the puck into the zone. Or he thinks he has Tomas Plekanec's speed, trying to blow past defenders on the right side. He is neither, and he should leave the puck carrying to Saku and the speed demon bit to Higgins.

But there were also a couple of instances in last night's game that made me think Ryder is starting to work again, trying to do the little things to get back on his game:
  1. In the second period, he laid out Derek Roy with a mid-ice, shoulder check. At first, I thought that must have been Steve Begin. But no, it was #73.
  2. On the first goal, he hustled back to the defensive zone to help cover for Andrei Markov -- and for Saku and Higgins, both of whom went to the bench. Markov, knowing he was covered defensively, was able to pick off the Buffalo entry pass. He fed it to Kostitsyn, who gave a nice feed to Plekanec for the game winner. All of this starts with Ryder hustling back on D.
So those are the little signs that Carbo must be pleased with. Enough to let Ryder stay on the top line, but probably not enough to quiet the vociferous few calling for a trade.