Saturday, April 4, 2009

So Happy Together

While it's great to see the Canadiens finally getting their collective act together and playing more than just a single period per game with any obvious intention to win it, I have to say the best part about it all is the new first line. And it's not just because they're exciting and fun to watch, or because they're money on the power play. It's because Saku Koivu, finally, has linemates worthy of his talents.

It's been a long, hard road for the little guy. He had the misfortune to be the only first-round Canadiens draft pick in fifteen years who was in any way worthy of hearing his name called in the opening round. After the dismantling of the '93 Cup team and the subsequent emptying of the prospect cupboard, Koivu was the best and most talented player in the Habs' system. As a result, he became captain of the team as it began a long slide into mediocrity from which it's only now beginning to emerge.

We know his history with injuries and illness and his less-than-stellar linemates. But through it all, he kept fighting to be a better player and drag his team to victory. And through it all, he was always the closest thing to a star the Canadiens could claim. Now he's entering the twilight of his career and it's wonderful to see him finally gifted with linemates able to capitalize on his nice plays, and who can set him up with nice plays of their own.

Koivu is smiling in interviews now more than I've seen him do since his first couple of seasons. He's celebrating goals like a rookie and on the ice he's showing the kind of indomitable spirit that leads the way for a team heading into the playoffs. The most telling quote of the season, for me, was the other day after the Thrashers game, when he said "If you miss the playoffs when you're 21 or 22, you think you have fifteen years to get there. I...I want to be there." He said that with fire in his eye and a purpose in his voice.

So, if the first line's newly-discovered brilliance means this man gets a chance to make a splash in the post-season, it's the best gift Bob Gainey could give the captain who's never had a chance to shine, despite his gifts on the ice, through no fault of his own.

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