Monday, October 20, 2008

Lineup ferris wheel

I was at the Coyotes/Habs game on Saturday night, and I was so impressed with the Koivu/Tanguay/Latendresse line it's difficult to explain the impression of compact unity the three gave every time they hit the ice. I said once before, but it bears repeating, that Alex Tanguay was made to play for this team. His speed, vision and passing ability are at an elite level. And, despite scouting reports to the contrary, I find him to be neither reluctant to shoot or weak in traffic.

Latendresse appears to be coming into his own and fulfilling all that promise he showed in his first two training camps. Of course, it's only been five games, but his skating is better, he's hitting, and, most importantly, he's going to the front of the net and being rewarded with points for his efforts. It seemed in the past that he felt himself to be more like a Tanguay than the power forward Habs' fans coveted. But now he looks like he's finally got the message that his quick hands and slick linemates will click when he puts himself and his large mass in difficult areas in the slot. The most marked difference for him this year is his start. It took him thirteen games to record a point in his rookie season and quite a while to get off the mark in his second too. Better conditioning and better linemates are finally giving him the opportunity to take advantage of his skills that playing spotty minutes with fourth-liners did not. I think he's going to take a lot of heat off himself this season, and I'm glad for it.

And Koivu? Wow. He's involved, he's smooth, he's energetic. He's also playing less than fourteen minutes a night, which is brilliant use of the captain by Guy Carbonneau. For the first time in years, Koivu looks like the enthusiastic kid he was when he was awarded the "C" back in the '90s. I think it's partly due to fewer minutes keeping him fresh, and partly due to playing with the best linemates of his career. If hockey is supposed to be fun, playing with guys who compliment you and take advantage of your best attributes to score goals has to be right up there as the most fun you can have.

The thing that frustrates me, though, is that old lineup ferris wheel. It seems to always be turning, and when one line is at the top, the other is at the bottom. Looking at the roster, I've been waiting since the Lang signing to see the three top lines all click to completely decimate the opposition. The Koivu line is fulfilling its promise, but the Plekanec line is not. They're not playing badly, but they haven't been the awesome dominating force they were last year either, and Plekanec has yet to pot his first goal. And now, with the Andrei Kostitsyn injury, they're going to be broken up for a while. The Lang line has looked good and worked hard, but poor Tom Kostopoulos just doesn't have the finishing skill that line needs and with Chris Higgins hurt too, we haven't seen that line completely up to speed either. Still, it baffles me that there only ever seems to be one line delivering, even when there are three lines perfectly able to do so. The injuries are accountable for some of it, but Andrei Kostitsyn didn't get hurt until Saturday, and their line wasn't nearly as dangerous as the Koivu line.

Some of it may be simply because the other team tends to put their best defensive players out against the most dangerous line, and based on last year, that would be the Plekanec line. But you'd think that the attention would shift to the Koivu line based on how well they've played, which should have opened up some ice for the Plekanec line. Or maybe the other teams just haven't adapted to the new Habs yet.

Either way, I can't help hoping when everyone is healthy we'll finally see it. We'll see wave after wave of dominance as the three offensive lines all find their chemistry and put the fear of God into the rest of the league. In the meantime, I'll just have to enjoy the happiness of Koivu, the emergence of Latendresse and the perfect fit of Alex Tanguay. The wheel has stopped for a little while, and they've ended up on top.

1 comment:

Dave said...

I wouldn't worry about the 3 lines taking some time to click, especially the Lang line with the previous aforementioned reasons. I would just chalk it up to it being early in the season.