Georges Laraque was sporting a grin that stretched from ear to ear when he was asked by reporters following last night’s 6-2 win over the New York Rangers how it felt to be the centre of attention as a result of his stick, and not his fists.
“If you look at my stats, it’s not, like, a miracle that I got a couple of points,” said number 17 after picking up two assists against the Broadway Blue Shirts.
“It’s just that this year has been a year of frustration. Nothing seems to be working, I was hurt all the time. But now we’re finally getting a fourth line that is contributing. Eventually you knew it was going to click.”
The fourth line of Laraque-Steve Begin-Maxim Lapierre is indeed clicking. Begin scored his fourth of the season, and his fourth in six games, midway through the first period after taking a perfect dangle pass from Lapierre, with Laraque also picking up an assist on the play. The goal came after Andrei Kostitsyn put a backhander past Henrik Lundqvist while number 46 was falling to the ice, for his sixth of the season, and third in his last three games.
With the Canadiens leading 3-0 after the opening period, their best period of the season, Lapierre made it 4-0 early in the second when he pounced on a loose puck in the crease (extra points to Maxim for going to the net) to notch his fourth of the season, and third in his last six games. Laraque also picked up an assist on the play, as did Begin. Big Georges was so excited on the play that he literally almost jumped on Lapierre’s lap in celebration of the goal.
A nice change of pace for Laraque, who hasn’t had much to celebrate this season, his first as a member of the Canadiens.
“It was a big relief, especially with the way things have been, now finally finding the right combination on our line. It’s the frustration of being hurt , being in and out of the lineup. Now things are going well. I’m really happy about that.”
A chronic groin injury, and the occasional trip to the press box as a healthy scratch, had limited Laraque’s playing time this season to 12 games, going into last night’s contest: Montreal’s 25th of the campaign. No one expected Laraque to lead this team in scoring when the Canadiens picked him up as a free agent during the off-season. But he was expected, as the NHL’s most feared heavyweight, to provide a punishing, physical presence on the ice. And drop the gloves, when necessary.
Truth is, Laraque hasn’t done much of that. Oh sure, he has spent plenty of time jawing at opponents (hello Milan Lucic) in an effort to get them to put up their dukes. But Canadiens’ fans have been frustrated by his measured approach to bashing heads. They just want to see him get busy. Well, last night he got busy, all right, on the score sheet.
As for Maxim Lapierre, he finished with a Gordie Howe Hat Trick: one goal, one assist, and one fight, as he went toe to toe with Peter Prucha midway through the second period. Clearly Lapierre didn’t like the view from the press box when he was made a healthy scratch for three straight games in mid-November.
The other goal scorers last night were Alex Tanguay, Robert Lang and Matt D’Agostini. It was Tanguay’s first goal in eight games, and he looked to the heavens with arms stretched out, as if to say “FINALLY”, after beating Lundqvist for his 9th of the season.
The goal by Lang was his eighth, a re-direct from a rejuvenated Andrei Markov, :49 into the third period. It was another example of Lang, once again, quietly going about his business.
And the goal by D’Agostini came as he caught Lundqvist flat-footed with a shot from well out that beat the Rangers’ net minder in the final minute of play. D’Agostini is making it more and more difficult for the Canadiens to send this young man back to Hamilton, thanks to his work on a line with Saku Koivu and Tom Kostopoulos. D’Agostini’s performance will also make it harder for designated sitters Sergei Kostitsyn and Guillaume Latendresse to work their way back into the lineup. Because, as we all know, head coach Guy Carbonneau tends to keep a pat hand when his team is winning.
And right now, his team is winning.