In a season where the Montreal Canadiens have taken one giant collective step back, Maxim Lapierre has made a strong push forward.
At a time when the gamut of emotions on the Habs bench runs from scared stiff to completely uninterested, Lapierre is doing his best to drive the club in a positive direction.
There has never been any doubting Lapierre’s ability to annoy, but he’s added an offensive element to his game this year that indicates he can be more than an interchangeable fourth-liner. Lapierre, who can play center and wing, could well end up with more than 15 goals and close to 35 points this season. That kind of contribution from a player whose main role is still to stir the pot and shut down other teams’ top players is highly valued.
In fact, about the only line combination that’s clicked consistently for Montreal this season is Lapierre between Guillaume Latendresse and Tom Kostopoulos.
Most nights, this trio essentially calls out the rest of the team on its apathy with their leg-churning approach from the first drop of the puck. They mix it up, score the odd goal and basically demonstrate the kind of heart and desire everybody else on Montreal would do well to emulate.
Lapierre’s season took off after some tough love from former coach Guy Carbonneau, who scratched the player for three games in November. Since that time, Lapierre has been the one forward who has consistently lived up to his expectations on the team, often exceeding them.
Right now, the Canadiens are a club without a rudder. Bob Gainey moving behind the bench has done nothing to improve fortunes, Alex Kovalev still looks like he’s in outer space, the goaltending has been suspect and Saku Koivu isn’t providing what this team needs from its captain.
Unlikely as it may seem, Lapierre has become a bit of a guiding light. He doesn’t have the skill to carry a team on his back, but if the talented players matched his work ethic and overall approach, making the playoffs would start to become a much more realistic option.
But if Lapierre’s performance continues to contrast that of his team’s, the season will be over shortly.
This column also appears in the Montreal Metro newspaper.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.