Saturday, February 6, 2010

Aftermath: They Beat Who?

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.


punkster said...

I think the key was the D "..found all the forwards in motion." Didn't seem like they had the Keystone Kops routine of clearing their zone today.

Anonymous said...

This 4th line is going to give Gainey some hard decisions. They did more in that game that D'Agostini has done all season.

You make a great point about having a kids line, the evidence was on the ice. The hard question is what do you do with Bergeron and D'Agostini? I don't think you can use Bergeron on D, but he is VERY useful on the PP as his shot is devastating (just ask Foligno). He is 5th in team scoring while only playing 10-15 mins a game or less. He is also -11.

The bottom line for Gainey is that if he wants to keep this kids line, Bergeron and D'Agostini must hit the waiver wire. It is a tough choice getting rid of a key ingredient of the No 1 PP in the league, especially with special teams being so important in the new NHL. Also losing one of your top prospects for nothing is tough to do (or make a Chipchura-type trade). Honestly I am not sure which choice would be better; the power play is important, but teams like Ottawa show the value of rolling 4 effective lines, like the Habs did today. Hmmmmm...

spyro367 said...

how do you keep the kid line(who only played one match so maybe we can calm down with Bergie quitting the team) and Bergie?

easy...Bergeron back to D. the guy has a nice first pass, terrific shot and pretty bad Defensive skills. The guy also his pretty young so he can still improve and get better on D. you can also pair him with markov so this way Markov can provide big offensive help while making up for bergie's errors.

now mara will hit waiver wire though

Raphaƫl P. said...

I would respectfully disagree with previous poster and suggest we keep Bergeron and D'Ago for now.

I'm fairly sure that the Habs will not make the play-offs or just barely make them. Thus I think it's better if the team plays for a good draft pick and allows it's vets to take a break while the kids finish their learning under Boucher (and maybe win the Calder).

Paul B. said...

Watching the kid line play their first game with the Canadiens today, brought me back to the mid 70's when Mario Tremblay and Doug Risebrough played their first game with Montreal ( I think it was in Boston).

I don't think the Canadiens will go far in the playoffs (should they qualify) but from what I have seen today the future might be more promising than I thought. I can't wait to see Boucher behind the bench, in Montreal.

Number31 said...

It's Boucher's system. He doesn't let them go ho-hum.

Also remove Bergeron and we have a friggin' fourth line for a change. He hasn't scored on a powerplay recently either. If he's not scoring, he's pretty much useless... To have a line that causes havoc, that forechecks, draws penalties, and gets scoring chances? JOY!

dusty said...

D'Agostini looked good when he first came up but just look at the poor guy now. I think having three guys who now each other playing together is a stroke of genius. Like you point out putting one guy with pluggers like Laraque isn't fair for any kid trying to make an impression. If this kiddy line can sustain this effort over the next week we may have a season after all.