Sunday, November 30, 2008

Manufacturing goals

It's no secret that the Habs have been offensively dismal over the past month or so. What is puzzling is why. The same players that had much success last year and early this year(at least ES) have been struggling to find the back of the net.

The lack of a sustained forecheck is certainly part of the problem. Carbo used to have the boys dump the puck in the zone and use their speed to get possession, then cycle the puck around trying to create a scoring chance. The crispness and creativity of those passes were a wonder to behold.

But no longer. Instead, opponents have been able to gain possession on those dump ins, reducing the Habs into a neutral zone stacking and trapping team. As in Detroit, they sometimes won't even try to forecheck, and instead hope to create a turnover by stacking the neutral zone with five players. Boring and certainly not using their natural talent, but it can be effective.

In so doing, Carbo announced that his patience was wearing thin. Out went Laraque's intimidating but offensively incapable presence. In went everyone that might help manufacture a goal. No longer would talent and line chemistry be relied upon. Those had somehow vanished anyway.

Part of this effort was to reshuffle the lines, most notably to get some right handed shots on scoring lines. The Habs are stacked with left handed scoring forwards, the only exception being Lang. They are also deep with right handed fourth liners, the only exception being Begin.

Every year when shopping for off season pickups, Gainey signs mostly right handers in an effort to rebalance this mostly left handed team. This has been noted before -- the recent additions of Robert Lang, Georges Laraque, the resigning of Patrice Brisebois and the eager pursuit of Brendan Shanahan and Mats Sundin makes the same case. I fully believe that even Michael Ryder would be in bleu, blanc et rouge had the Bruins not given him crazy money.

But right handed scoring forwards aren't always easy to come by, as evidenced by Bob's success on the free agent and trade market. So Carbo has been reduced to playing Kostopolous on the third line and sometimes higher. The only other right handed winger on the team is Dandenault, and he's clearly suited for fourth line or 6th dman duties, if skating at all.

So when Tanguay and Komisarek went down, Bob called up Matt D'Agostini, a right hander with offensive flair. Carbo stuck him on the first line of all places. But the more significant lineup news was that he finally was able to put a right hander on every line: D'Agostini with Koivu and Higgins; Lang with Kovalev and Latendresse; Kostopolous with Begin and Plekanec; and Lapierre with the flying Kostitsyns.

Those combinations made it difficult to tell a fourth line from a first (at least before TOI made Carbo's intentions clear), and had some obvious flaws: D'Agostini is a raw rookie; Lang, Kovalev and Latendresse might be the three slowest skaters on the team; Kostopolous and Begin would surely weigh down Plekanec -- if his lack of scoring could get any worse; ditto for Lapierre with the Kostitsyns.

But those standard appraisals only work when the scoring forwards are actually scoring. With the goal drought, Carbo has pulled out all the stops. Nobody's roles are a given, and he will try to manufacture goals from the bench until les gars can snap themselves out of this funk. Then maybe Carbo might let his crew use their talent alone to score goals and go back to his odd October lineups of all lefties on the scoring lines and all righties on the fourth line.

And for a lesson in how to put together a lineup with almost perfect shooting balance, just look at the league leading SJ Sharks (3.75 goals per game). Here's a typical lineup:

Marleau (L) - Thornton (L) - Setoguchi (R)
Michalek (L) - Pavelski (R) - Clowe (R)
Grier (R) - Goc (L) - Cheechoo (R)
Shelley (L) - Roenick (R) - Plihal (L)

Blake (R) - Vlasic (L)
Boyle (R) - Lukowich (L)
Ehrhoff (L) - Murray (L)

Of course, it doesn't hurt that they're loaded with talent, blue line experience and speed.