The blog (and preceeding it book) title don't lie. The Canadiens used to be the Lions in Winter. The team from the 30s on played their way, be damned with what the opponents wanted to do...
Of course, it was never quite that simple, but the fact of the matter remains that coaches planned on ways to beat (or on many occasions just survive) the Habs and not the other way around. Like the lion, we did what we pleased, the other animals waited to see what we would do before acting. Like the lion, we ate well, growing fat on Stanley Cups.
This tradition of the Lion has definitely gone by the wayside, and I want to know if we'll ever be the one dictating the terms again, whether we'll ever be the Lions in Winter once more?
Take tonight's game in Pittsburgh:
Carbonneau is making changes:
Price for Huet – fair enough, I'd be surprised if Price played less than 1 in 3 over the season anyway, so he's due a game then
Gorges for Brisebois – a welcome change, probably correcting course for an earlier error in judgment
Chipchura for Grabovski – offensive flair out (even if yet to flourish, it's still potential), defensive responsibility in
It's this last change that irks me. I'm thrilled Chipchura is in. He should have made it from the get go. I'd be surprised if he doesn't grab his chance and stick from here. It's who he replaces that I take issue with: Grabovski.
I'll be the first to admit that Grabovski has looked a little bit stunned to be in the NHL, but apart from the fact he's not had enough time to get his legs, he still hasn't been our worst player. That player has been Latendresse, who could and maybe should have been put to the side for tonight's game.
But for me, I'd even be leaving Latendresse in there. I'd be taking out a defensive forward like Kostopoulos or heaven forbid Dandenault. No offense to either (no pun intended), but they just don't offer much more than back and forth hockey.
What's more, playing seven defensemen (even if one did manage to push in one of his 6 goals for the season the other night), is an admission of defeat. It is a symptom of negative thinking and overcautious instincts.
When you design a team strategy where forwards end up playing too much defense, you make it near impossible for your team to dictate the play. You may win a lot of games, you may sneak into a Stanley Cup final like the Flames did, but you'll only be scavengers, opportunists, jackals or hyenas. To win games on a consistent basis, and in ways that make your fans comfortable watching the last 10 minutes, you need to be a bit more ballsy. You need to dissect the weaknesses in the other team's defense and design attacks, relying on the defense that you inherently trust (by definition of your confident condition).
If I were coach and GM, here is what I would suggest to go for a victory against the Penguins:
Higgins – Koivu – Ryder (The first line we have confidence in)
Kostitsyn – Grabovski – Kovalev (Secondary scoring, and valuable learning for Grabovski)
Lapierre – Plekanec – Kostopoulos (Bringing back the league's best Crosby thorn)
Chipchura – Smolinski – Begin (Chipchura for D7)
Markov, Komisarek, Hamrlik, Gorges, Streit, Bouillon (the right 6)
Price (Getting a game in, regardless of the opponent)
In addition, I'd stick with Grabovski (on that line as well) for at least 2 months to give him a chance and I'd do away with the 7th defenseman experiment for good. I'd build the team to build and hold momentum by holding the puck and the play, not by relying on stealing it back.
I don't want to the Habs be anything less than the Lions of Winter – but it's gonna take some doing I think.