The Habs recent success (season high 4 game win streak) probably has much to do with the team's depth and health. This win streak follows a season high 3 game losing streak, one in which their frequent defensive lapses showed how much they missed Roman Hamrlik. He has settled in nicely as the #3 blueliner, and has showed his versatility in pairing up with veteran playmakers Patrice Brisebois (playing on the right) and Mark Streit (playing on the left), as well as the young rookie Ryan O'Byrne.
Hamrlik was gone not because of injury but because of some strange flu-like illness that also left him with an undiagnosed rash (TMI?). Last season, a flu bug spread through the clubhouse, contributing greatly to the Habs' midseason slide. So despite Hamrlik's value, he was quarantined from the rest of the team until he got better.
And not a moment too soon. Even though he is not the club's best dman (that honor would go to Markov or maybe even Komisarek), his replacement -- Patrice Brisebois -- was not up to the task. Brisebois slide into Hamrlik's spot, and promptly showed why he was run out of town a few years ago.
With O'Byrne still on the mend with his broken hand, Carbo didn't have much choice. So he tried juggling his defensive combinations, much like he often juggles his forwards. As the best defensive dman, Komisarek ended up double shifting a lot. That didn't seem to work well: in the Habs' 6-1 shellacking by Ottawa, Komisarek was -3. When was the last time that has ever happened?
So Hamrlik goes and the Habs lose 3 in row. He returns and they've now won 4 in a row. Does this mean that Hamrlik is the team MVP? Hardly. But he does fill a valuable role on the team, being the shutdown dman on the second pairing. And while playing with O'Byrne, he plays a similar mentoring role as in Calgary with Dion Phaneuf. I would think that Carbo would also have a difficult time replacing Bouillon, Markov or Komisarek should any of them be unavailable.
But it does mean that Hamrlik's signing was well worth the big money paid to him -- second highest on the team, only behind Andrei Markov. His stats bear it out too: among full time dmen, only second to Markov in points and only second to Komisarek in plus/minus.
Most interestingly, the Habs' recent streaks also prove that maybe they don't need UFA's. Beyond Hamrlik anyway. This post has gone on too long already, so let's take that up next time.