You have to be excited when you look at the situtation in Montreal right now. The Habs are winning games. More importantly than the actual fact of winning, though, is the way in which they're winning. Remember last season, when they started out really hot, but the wins were kind of unconvincing? A blown lead here, a last-ditch OT goal there, a lucky bounce somewhere else. None of it gave you the feeling the team was in control of their own fate. Instead of creating things, the players just let things happen to them. You don't get that feeling this time. Now, riding a five-game winning streak, you don't worry that it's all an illusion and the wheels are going to fall off at any minute. This time the players are earning what they get because they're working hard and playing a solid team game. Losses will still happen, but you don't fear they'll be debilitating to team morale and lead to a five-game losing streak.
The best part of it all is the injury problems that lead to much of the trouble earlier this season appear to be finally ending. Mike Cammalleri and Marc Andre Bergeron are the last two long-term residents of sickbay, and they're both skating again.
We're all awaiting Cammalleri's return with unabashed enthusiasm. We know what he can do and we know he'll simply bump Tom Pyatt back to Hamilton and immediately improve the Plekanec line and the power play without causing many ripples throughout the lineup. The Bergeron case, though, is more difficult.
MAB's got a cannon from the point and he played a big part in saving the early-season wretched PP. The man is also terrible defensively. The coaching staff really has a tough choice to make here. Do they sit Bergeron because the team is winning without him, or do they squeeze him in as an added weapon with the man advantage? If they play him, will it be on forward or defence? And who sits in his place?
Really, if Bergeron plays, it'll have to be on the fourth line. The defence isn't perfect, but it's got the best combination of pairings we've seen all year out there right now. Hal Gill is the weakest link, and Bergeron is certainly not better than him. The prevailing school of thought would have us accept that it's more important to have a solid defence than a solid fourth line. So, if Bergeron plays forward, he won't replace Glen Metropolit at centre. That leaves Mathieu Darche and Maxim Lapierre. In this scenario, you almost have to keep Darche. He's outplaying Lapierre and he's a smart player who's producing. Yet, we know that Lapierre can be effective if he uses his speed and size properly. The question is, do you risk messing up some pretty decent chemistry on the forward lines to make a place for a power play specialist and defensive liability?
My first thought was, no. You shouldn't mess with a winning lineup, and Bergeron really hadn't been contributing much on the PP since Christmas anyway. Without the PP goals from the point, he really brings absolutely nothing to the team. Then I thought, what's better, the threat of Bergeron scoring while he's actually doing nothing, or Lapierre just outright doing nothing? In that case, I'd have to go with the guy who might create some offence. What it comes down to for the coaching staff might be how well Lapierre performs in the next few games before Bergeron's ready to return. If he's aggressive and contributing on the fourth line, maybe he'll keep his spot.
The one thing the coaches have to be careful about is assuming just anybody can jump in on the fourth line and still make it work. For the first time all year, we're seeing good third and fourth lines that are helping the team win instead of just eating minutes. The current winning streak is evidence of how important those role players can be, and I'd be loathe to interfere with success if I were the coach.
Whatever Martin and Co. decide to do about Bergeron, though, it's a pretty small worry compared to some of the problems the team has faced this year. And as long as the wins keep coming, we'll keep smiling, no matter who's got to sit to make it happen.