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!