So, the Habs are six games into their season and have yet to lose in regulation. Their even-strength goal differential is the best in the league for the first time in recent memory. Both goalies are rocking the crease, and the Captain's line is rocking the opposition, including the long-awaited Latendresse in an emerging power forward role. Everything's going according to plan, right?
Wrong. These are the Habs, and we are Habs' fans. There's always something that's not perfect. I'm on record myself as saying I'm impatient for the night when everyone's healthy and all three offensive lines are firing. It's going to be fun, and we haven't seen it yet. But you have to think it'll come...especially to last year's first line. Unfortunately a lot of fans aren't very patient, and they're starting to get on Alex Kovalev's and Tomas Plekanec's cases already. I'm assuming Andrei Kostitsyn gets a pass because he took a serious blow to the head last game.
It's true the team's erstwhile first line isn't tearing up the ice like it did last year. But consider this: some smart coaches have figured out Kovalev is the engine that drives that line. They've realized double-teaming him doesn't work...he just finds space around his shadows and dishes the puck to his linemates. So instead they're having their players cover Pleks and AKost. That means Kovalev is left holding the puck and has no one to receive a pass. He's able to hold the biscuit for a while, but inevitably ends up coughing it up when the opposition checkers move in.
Now, this is an interesting dilemma because of the question of who will ultimately solve it. It seems obvious that it should be the players' problem. They're the ones out there on the ice and the ones who must find a way to get around the lane-clogging defence of the other team. But I think the coaches have a role here too, when it comes to helping the former first line find a way to cope. I think it's up to them to designate another puck-carrier on that line for one thing. Andrei Kostitsyn is well able to lug the puck up through the neutral zone. If the opposition is keying on Kovalev, that'll throw them a little. And, I think when that line has the puck, the defence should be on alert for more opportunities to sneak a pinch in. If the opposition is covering Plekanec and Kostitsyn when Kovalev has the puck, who's going to cover a pinching Markov or Gorges? It would give Kovalev another option to pass, and more moving targets for the other team to cover.
It'll be intriguing to see what Carbo does to help his players out in terms of strategy. So far, he's come at them with the old "don't rest on your talent...work harder" line. Sure, that's fine. But these guys' bread and butter isn't grinding on the boards and in the corners. They need options for their slick style to work, and it's up to Carbonneau and his staff to help them find those options. It's up to Kovy and Co. to listen and follow the coaches' advice, as well as come up with some creativity (and, yes, hard work) of their own.
The bottom line is, it'll come. These are smart guys we're talking about, both on the ice and off it. They know the game and they'll figure it out. We just have to be patient and give them a chance before we start ragging on them. It's a test, both of the players and of the coaching staff. But, isn't that what a championship season really is? A test of skill, and will, and strategy? There's no point in criticism yet...it'll only frustrate us as fans and annoys the players who get to hear about our frustration in the press. A friend says you can't judge a team until the 26-game mark. I think that's a good idea. Let's give them 26 games, and if the Plekanec line is still struggling, then we can ask stressed-out questions about what's going on with them. Until then, let's just chill. It'll come.