When it comes to producing offense in the National Hockey League, there’s always strength in numbers.
The Montreal Canadiens are a talented team, but they don’t possess a player capable of leading an attack alone. There’s no Vincent Lecavalier, Sidney Crosby or Alexander Semin to ignite the offense based purely on his goal-creating wizardry.
The Habs rely on everybody to chip in the odd goal, but lean heavily on their top two lines. The problem is, for far too long now, the Canadiens haven’t consistently received the production they require from both units at the same time.
Last year, the line of Tomas Plekanec, Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn gelled to form a potent trio. The problem was Montreal couldn’t find anyone to click with captain Saku Koivu. Michael Ryder, who had worked well with Koivu for a couple seasons, was having an awful year and the club just never found the right players to flank its captain.
This year, with the arrival of Alex Tanguay, Koivu is soaring. He’s formed real chemistry with Tanguay and two-way digger Chris Higgins completed the trio’s chemistry.
But, where’s the Plekanec line? Kostitsyn only scored one goal in 13 games and through 15 contests, Kovalev is on pace for a 66-point season after bagging 84 last year. Plekanec looked poised to push the 75-point barrier this year, but he’s on track for 55.
The inability of both lines to consistently click at the same time has forced coach Guy Carbonneau to shuffle the deck, creating different trios from amongst the top-six forwards.
Having both of their top units play to their potential would strengthen the Canadiens immeasurably. Right now, the opposition has an easy choice when it comes to deploying its top defensive players. If you’re facing Montreal, the Koivu line faces your top checkers because you know the Plekanec line isn’t clicking. But, if Montreal can ever get both lines going, one of them has a chance to exploit secondary checkers all night. That’s a match up that will inevitably favor the Habs.
Depth is a crucial factor in achieving NHL success and their lack of big-time star players means it’s all the more significant to the Canadiens. If both the top lines aren’t moving well at the same time, this team won’t go very far.
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.
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