With game 31 of the regular season in the books, a 3-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricaines in one of the strangest hockey games you’ll ever see, I’m left pondering the question:
Where are these guys?
Where is the Tomas Plekanec who emerged as a truly splended centreman last season on a line with Andrei Kostitsyn and Alex Kovalev? The Tomas Plekanec who took the bull by the horns last season and proved he could step up and play with a world-class (?) talent like Alex Kovalev while pivoting Montreal’s most effective line in 2008-2009. You’ll recall that, the previous year, which proved to be a breakout season for Plekanec, the native of Kladno, Czech Republic didn’t get going until after the coach REMOVED him from a line with Kovalev.
And where is Andrei Kostitsyn? Where is the gritty, feisty and supremely talented hockey player who tore it up in the second half of last season to finish with 26 goals. Yes, he got his bell rung by Kurt Sauer of the Phoenix Coyotes early in the season, but that was 26 games ago. Since then, we’ve seen only flashes of his former self. Case in point: one goal in three straight games against Buffalo, Atlanta and the Rangers. Since then: 0-for-6.
Where is little brother Sergei? Where is the guy who, after being called up from the Hamilton Bulldogs 30 games into last season, exhibited a scrappy, productive and tenacious approach to this game that literally lit a fire under Andrei. Where is the Sergei Kostitsyn who, through the pre-season and into the first handful of games of the regular season, was arguably the best forward on this club?
Where is Guillaume Latendresse? Oh. There he is. On last night’s scoresheet, with a goal off a penalty shot. His third goal of the season to break an o-for-9 drought. Three goals. Was it too much to expect Guillaume Latendresse, after back-to-back 16-goal seasons, to put himself on a pace to finish with, perhaps, 20 goals this season? At this rate, he’ll be hard pressed to score 10. Here’s another guy who started the season looking so solid, while playing on a line with Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay. Until he mysteriously vanished. To the press box, until the recent rash of injuries.
Where is he?
Where is Alex Tanguay? So dominant through the opening dozen games of the season, Tanguay has virtually disappeared over the last dozen, with but one goal to his credit during that stretch.
And Chris Higgins? Don’t get me wrong. I really feel for the guy after he suffered a shoulder injury 3:33 into the game against Calgary one week ago; just more of that dark cloud that has hung over him since the start of the season. However, the reality is, up until that point, Chris Higgins’ season consisted of little more than a three-goal performance against the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 11.
Where are these guys?
When head coach Guy Carbonneau puts the line of Steve Begin, Tom Kostopoulos and Maxim Lapierre on the ice to start last night’s game in Carolina, he’s not doing it to “make a statement.” He’s doing it because, on too many nights, Begin, Kostopoulos and Lapierre have been Montreal’s BEST line. When Carbonneau puts Begin, Kostopoulos and Lapierre on the ice as a power play unit, as he has done in recent games, he’s not doing it to “make a statement.” He’s doing it because Begin, Kostopoulos and Lapierre DESERVE IT.
Which brings me to Alex Kovalev. You would think that with all the soul searching and gnashing of teeth that accompanied Kovalev’s 19-game goal-scoring drought, the biggest Canadiens’ statistic that would have emerged from last night’s 3-2 loss to the ‘Caines would have been the goal by Kovalev, which came at the 3:57 mark of the second period. The goal coming while the Canadiens were playing shorthanded, with Kovalev floating a bit of a knuckleball past Cam Ward after Robert Lang had won the draw deep in Carolina territory.
Nope. The key Canadiens’ statistic that emerged from last night’s loss to Carolina featured a string of 11 straight penalties called against Montreal (although a penalty would have been called on the ‘Caines on the play that led to the Latendresse penalty shot.) It was simply amazing to see this parade of Canadiens to the penalty box during the first 40 minutes of hockey. Some of the calls were warranted, others were not. Regardless, the Canadiens failed to adjust to the fact that the officials were clearly going to call everything on this particular night. And as a result, the Canadiens essentially played 20 of the first 40 minutes of this game, shorthanded. The Hurricanes responded with three power play goals.
Game, set and match.
Up next: the Philadelphia Flyers in town tomorrow night. We’ll wait and see who shows up.