Sometimes, when a coach resorts to the bag skate to shake his team out of lethargy, one player in particular really, really hates that kind of wake-up call. He gets the message because he'd rather do pretty much anything other than skate like that again. Jacques Martin skated his team into the ice on Wednesday after Tuesday night's choke against Philly. Last night, Andrei Kostitsyn proved he much prefers to do his hard skating during the game instead.
The Belarussian Bomber played his best game since being separated from Tomas Plekanec and moved to the Gomez line. Now back with his favourite centreman, he was hitting, shooting missiles from everywhere and dominating with his speed. When he plays like that, it lifts the entire team. He scored his own goal on a laser, but his hard work led to Plekanec's too. If Martin sent a message to the team that Kostitsyn received loud and clear, the player also sent a message to the coach: leave him with Plekanec and good things happen.
Speaking of finding the right linemates for people, Lars Eller finally got his first Habs goal. To nobody's surprise, it came from a nice play by a linemate with actual offensive talent. Benoit Pouliot is playing some very good hockey these days, and there might be some chemistry building between he and Eller. More impressive than his goal celebration of pure relief was Eller's attitude after the game. He said, "Scoring is not the most important part of my game right now. I'm doing other things." It's brilliant to hear that from a young, offensive-minded player. His determination to learn both sides of the game and be patient when it comes to accumulating points is reminiscent of Plekanec's early years with the team. That can only be a good thing, especially since Eller is stronger on the boards than Plekanec.
The added bonus of having the forwards skating hard and controlling the puck is the defencemen get a bit of a break. It's a lot easier to play D when you're not under attack all night. P.K. Subban, in particular, stood out for his smart play. Carey Price had to make some nice saves on the Kings' 25 shots, but it wasn't a night of pain like some he's faced.
It felt right to have Darche back on the Halpern line and Weber in the pressbox. The kid is going to be a Streit-like PP specialist at some point, but he's not ready to be thrown into fourth-line duty with second-PP unit time and expected to adapt to it. He should go to Hamilton where he's been building his game and can play 20 minutes night. If there should be any other call-up, it should be someone who's suited for the role available.
The Habs showed some resilience last night in bouncing back from a dispiriting loss to the Flyers. If they can keep putting the losses behind them quickly and bouncing back like that, they'll be just fine. And if we learned anything from the Kings game, it's that Martin should have bag skated Kostitsyn last October.