Apparently the difference between the Habs playing the Bruins poorly and playing the Bruins well is the difference between winning 5-2 and winning 8-2.
1. I don’t envy Mrs. Carbonneau, because Guy is going to be completely insufferable for at least the next week. Sure, he maintained his façade of perpetual-gum-chewing stoicism through the game, but you know as soon as they got out of reach of the camera, he and Muller were hugging and hopping up and down like they just got chosen for The Price Is Right. Because all that incessant, impatient line juggling he’s been doing ever since he got to be coach? That compulsive need he has to tweak and reshuffle the forward combinations every other game and sometimes mid-game, even if there’s no real reason to? It fucking worked. I never believed it was going to work. Fool that I am, I never thought there was some combination so perfect, so effective that the second he spun it out onto the ice, it would demonstrate immediate, glorious synchronicity. And yet, first period of this game saw a goal from each of the new lines. Which means that Carbo is one very happy whackjob right now, and we can safely assume that he’ll be sticking with these combinations as long as the personnel situation allows for it. So let’s take a closer look at these combinations:
a. Ryder-Koivu-Higgins- Everything old is new again, but there’s a reason for it. The question, of course, is whether Ryder ‘deserves’ to go back to a theoretical top line, because he’s still slumping. But then again, so are Higgins and Koivu. Line combinations, however, shouldn’t be determined by status or worthiness (that’s what ice time is for)- they should be determined by who is most effective with whom. And from that perspective, it only makes sense to keep Ryder with Koivu. There is, in fact, some truth to the old stereotype that Koivu is a playmaker and Ryder is a finisher. Check out this post from On the Forecheck about scoring dependency (based on last year’s stats). Ryder got 40% of his goals off an assist by Koivu, making him the 10th most dependent 20+ scorer in the entire League. So if you want to encourage him to develop an independent spirit, it might make sense to separate them, but if you want him to score, then you might as well go with the best probability in spite of his streakiness. My general feeling is that Higgins can perhaps be profitably combined with almost anyone- he played well with A. Kostitsyn and Plekanec last year, and a lot of his best efforts are quite individualistic anyway- but Ryder and Koivu should be kept together. Besides, they look so adorable when they hug.
b. A. Kostitsyn-Plekanec-Kovalev- There isn’t a lot I can say about this year’s Holy Trinity that hasn’t already been said. They’re consistently effective on the PP and consistently dangerous (if only intermittently effective) at ES. Of course people can’t say enough about Kovalev’s resurgence and Plekanec’s rapid development, but lately I really think Kostitsyn al-Akbar is the most impressive part of this line- while he’s not it’s best player, it’s amazing how fast he’s synched into his role there, and that serendipity has left him surprisingly immune to a lot of the uncertainty and jumping around that the other bachcheha have had to endure to find a place on the team. Two goals for him tonight, 13th and 14th of the year. But my personal favorite move of the night was actually Kovalev, not for any of his points (1G, 1A) but for an insufferably arrogant but undeniably impressive display wherein he chased down the puck behind the net, lost a glove, bent down to pick it up, put it back on, and got checked by freaking Zdeno Chara, all without losing the freaking puck, and made a clean pass at the end of it all. Insane.
c. Latendresse-Lapierre-S. Kostitsyn- There’s a certain logic to having an all-kid line. The customary theory seems to be that you integrate youth by playing them with veterans, thereby allowing the young ‘uns to learn while having experienced dudes around who can compensate for their inevitable fuck-ups. But it’s also true that playing with veterans can lead (or force) rookies to play a more passive, deferential style- Plekanec said as much about playing with Kovalev last year, that it was hard to avoid the temptation to just dish the puck to him all the time rather than following his own instincts. And it’s true, back then they sucked together. But after finishing last year playing with Higgins and A. Kostitsyn- a younger line- and racking up some points of his own, he was able to go back to playing with Kovy in a much more confident manner. Similarly, I think that while Lapierre doesn’t vary his style significantly no matter who he’s with, Latendresse does have a tendency to defer too much to senior linemates, and S. Kostitsyn often seemed like a bit of an afterthought (albeit a very appealing one) on the Koivu line. So perhaps putting them together- on a line not being described as the ‘first’, with all those attendant pressures- will be good for their ability to develop personal confidence. Latendresse’s slowness is still a problem, though. It’s perfectly possible to be slow and still be a good player, even a good offensive forward, but for that to happen one has to accept that one is slow and learn to work around it. Gui, methinks, is still in denial about his lack of pick-up. He’s great in the corners, along the boards, in front of the net when he bothers to go there, but he can’t outskate anyone, and he just looks silly when he insists on trying.
d. Begin-Smolinski-Kostopolous- The converse of having a kid line is having an old line. Smolinski and Kostopolous haven’t gotten a lot of rave reviews as off-season acquisitions, and Smolinski in particular tends to be the subject of unfavorable comparisons to the lost Radek Bonk (which is just plain unfair, I mean, on sheer coolness of name and plenitude of facial hair, to say nothing of defensive forwarding prowess, Bonk is incomparable). But this was easily the best line of a game of good lines, all three players contributing on two goals, Kostopolous getting a Gordie Howe hat-trick and the night’s first star, and Begin throwing himself into everything, everywhere. Unfortunately, in his first game back off the IR, he took a nasty hit to the numbers from Hnidy (who in spite of his cool name is now on our permanent boo-list) and left in the 3rd. Here’s hoping he’s all good for Thursday.
2. Pity Mathieu Dandenault. He was healthy-scratched from this game and bitched vociferously about it to the media, but this level of success makes it pretty much assured that- unless Begin is actually hurt- he’s going to be sitting for the indefinite future. I feel a bit bad for him, after all the guy has been clawing to keep himself on the roster all year, but on the other hand, he didn’t have a terrific year last year and he ain’t having one this year, and that’s the kind of thing I want my hockey team to be a bit unsentimental and mercenary about. Not saying he should be gotten rid of or anything like that, but sometimes a dude needs to acknowledge that he’s not the best person to do what his team needs at the present moment.
3. Another brilliant night for Komisarek, coming up with a goal and an assist and a +4 ranking. Some games lately you’d be hard-pressed to choose who’s the better defenseman in that pairing.
4. I will now always associate Tim Thomas’ face with some of the most indelible expressions of human existential despair I have ever seen. I swear, when he got switched in for Auld in the 2nd period, he looked like a man staring directly into the black abyss of the innate meaninglessness of being. When he retires from hockey, I fully expect him to lecture at the Sorbonne.
From an analytical standpoint, if not a standings one, the beautiful thing about this is that we play the Devils on Thursday, meaning we go from playing one of the teams we’re best against to one of those we’re worst against. Given that Carbonneau will almost certainly stick with what worked here and start the same lines in