Earlier this week, someone posted here that the problem with the Habs youngsters is really in player development rather than coaching. I asked why it's so hard to have a fourth line made up of three eager kids who are all at the same place in their development and let them progress together. It seemed to make so much sense: you have your top two lines, then you have your grinding checking line, then your kids. Why does a fourth line have to be made up of scraps like Laraque and Bergeron, along with whatever kid is unlucky enough to be sharing the five minutes of ice those guys get? Is it any wonder development slows down when that's how they're used?
Well, the theory of icing an exciting, passionate line of youngsters was tested today and was proven to be very effective. Desharnais, Trotter and White won that game for the Habs, along with fellow Bulldog, Mathieu Darche. When the Pens came back and tied the game in the first minute of the first period, it immediately stole away the Habs' jubilation at the unexpected Plekanec opener. It seemed like it'd be just another ho-hum game of domination by the defending champs. The kids wouldn't let the inevitable happen though. They played with such insistent passion, nobody else could go out there and do any less. How could a veteran like Gomez allow himself to be shown up by Brock Trotter, in his first NHL game? It just wouldn't happen because the kids wouldn't quit and wouldn't let anyone else quit either.
At this point of the long, wearisome season, there are two kinds of emotion that can lift and inspire a team. One is the enthusiasm of kids getting a shot at realizing their dreams. The other is the determination of older players who know they're getting their last shot to be remembered in the NHL. The Canadiens benefitted from both today. Those bursts of emotion don't generally last a long time. It's impossible for them to, without burning the players out. But while it lasts, it's irresistable.
Gionta, Gomez, Plekanec and Kostitsyn picked up on it and played relentless, fast hockey in their turn. The defence handled the puck well and had an easier time than usual in clearing their zone when they found all the forwards in motion. The PK was aggressive and smart, once again. And the centres fought for and won the faceoffs that mattered.
Halak made the big saves when the team needed him, and one of those saves turned the game. Halak kicked it out and Hamrlik put the rebound on Gionta's stick for the go-ahead goal in the second. If Halak had allowed that one, the Pens would have been in front and the game a completely different one. He wasn't the total wall he's been on many nights this year, but he still was the turning point.
I give Jacques the Knife credit tonight too. A lot of coaches would have relied heavily on the two lines that got them where they are, but Martin recognized how the team was responding emotionally to the aggression of the Kid Line. He gave the rookies a lot of responsibility and ice time, including on the PP, which validated their efforts. Watching Brock Trotter on HNIC after the game, he was just floating on air to have had such a great first game. Part of that was because the coach wasn't afraid to use him.
Every single player in the Canadiens lineup did their best tonight, and it turns out their best is good enough when it's fired with passion. Tonight, that passion came courtesy of a pack of Bulldogs.