Friday, April 10, 2009

Paging Steve Begin

The Habs return to postseason play in dramatic fashion. Who woulda thunk they'd do it with the 7th or 8th seed?

Regardless, the Habs showed some fight in the penalty filled penultimate regular season game with Boston. And all this without Big Georges Laraque and Gregory Stewart. Still, they managed to hold their own. Kind of.

Which really should make a Habs fan wistful for Steve Begin. Here was a good old Quebec boy who hit everything in sight. And with the playoffs looming, this is exactly what the Habs need.

As much as any fan of pure skilled hockey must hate it, the playoffs are all about gritty play, hard hitting and garbage goals. Habs fans must still remember all the goalie interference penalties that went uncalled when Carolina beat the Habs in seven a few years back. Rod Brind'Amour was viewed as a playoff hero, but most of those "goals" would have actually resulted in penalties in the regular season.

For this reason, Lapierre's line will do especially well in the playoffs. Latendresse has the most skill on this line, although Lapierre can do his share of scoring. And Kostopolous is the lone holdover from the "Lunchbucket Line" last year.

It didn't have to be this way. Sure, the Habs got an experienced dman in return. And experience along the blueline is very valuable, as the Habs found out when three of their top 6 dmen were all out at the same time (Markov, Schneider and Bouillon). But the Habs also had Dandenault playing forward. One could argue whether Dandenault or Janik would be better suiting protecting the defensive zone. But having Begin in the same lineup and especially available for the playoffs, I think the argument tilts toward the fact that this was not a good trade.

Sure the Habs got Glen Metropolit without giving up players or picks (or pucks for that matter). He's almost identical in size to Begin: both are 6'0" and around 195 lbs. And both have posted eerily similar stats this year. Metropolit has 6 goals and 11 assists in 71 games, about .23 pts/game. Begin has 8 goals and 5 assists in 61 games, good for .21 pts/game.

Metropolit is a right handed shot, and Gainey has shown a preference for trying to rebalance the Habs lineup. But come playoffs, balanced shots are nice but grit and energy rule the day. This year, Begin is among the league leaders in hits per minutes played.

Metropolit? In some games he seems to shy away from hits.

And while Metropolit makes $300k less than Begin, his contract extends into next year. Begin could have been invited back for the same amount as Metropolit, should Gainey want to keep him.

Had Begin stuck around, he might be centering the line with Higgins and Dandenault. That would give the Habs two lines that play strong on the puck, dish out hits, and take hits to make a play. If those two lines are thrown out against some of the other, harder hitting lines of any almost any playoff opponent, the two skilled lines (esp Koivu's), might find a little more space on the ice to do what they do best.

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