On the way to game yesterday afternoon, I listened to Dany Dubé – my favourite hockey analyst, along with Pierre McGuire – on CKAC. His insights were borne out by the 6-3 game result.
The key to what I think we can safely call Canadiens’ resurgence is three lines that can score. That kind of balance translated to four even-strength goals last night. And it deprives the opponent of a shutdown option – not that Tampa Bay has that in their repertoire.
Take a bow, Guy Carbonneau.
When the coach blew up three of his four lines after the Dallas debacle, I thought he’d lost it. Particularly loopy was seaprating Christopher Higgins from Saku Koivu.
Well, guess what?
Higgins is playing his best hockey of the season with a new centre, Maxim Lapierre. Higgins is the leader on the line, and he’s brought Michael Ryder back from the brink of oblivion.
Ryder was excellent last night: two goals and an assist in less than 13 minutes of ice time. Underrated and often overlooked as a physical player, Ryder also contributed two hits and battled for the puck all night.
Max Lapierre had four hits. Once he starts converting some of the chances Higgins and Ryder are creating for him, that line will be dynamite.
Koivu has been re-energized by the addition of Sergei Kostitsyn. And they’ve elevated the game of Guillaume Latedresse, who’s a much better player with guys who can score, as opposed to plumbers.
I also was astounded when Carbo sent Kyle Chipchura to the pressbox for the two games in Florida. But Chipchura, centring Mathieu Dandenault and Tom Kostopoulos, played his best game of the season last night. He scored a goal and even outskated Lightning defencemen on a couple occasions.
Memo to Bryan Smolinski: Take all the time you need.
The only line Carbo left intact continues to shine. Alex Kovalev shows up for every game and stars in most of them. And Andrei Kostitsyn got his 10th last night and is on track for 20 … or more.
Kostitsyn made a couple of bad passes during the second-period lapse that let the Lightning erase a two-goal deficit and climb back into the game. An earlier incarnation of Guy Carbonneau may have benched the kid for at least part of the third period. But the 2008 model Carbo didn’t, and Andrei K scored the game-winner.
The defence corps was part of the second-period letdown but was solid overall. Mark Streit had four shots on goal, two assists and two hits. He and Roman Hamrlik formed a nicely complementary pairing.
Andrei Markov and Mike Komisarek weren’t able to shut down Vincent Lecavalier this time. But Markov had a typically excellent night and Komisarek blocked four shots and had four hits, one a crusher on Martin St. Louis.
Josh Gorges played 12 minutes. I wouldn’t alter a winning lineup, but nor would it surprise me to see Gorges in the pressbox tomorrow to give Patrice Brisebois some playing time.
And I wonder if the forgotten man, Carey Price, will get a start against Washington.