The season is a wink away, as both veterans and rookies hit the ice last Monday for the start of training camp.
For Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau, his possible line-ups seem to be ready—despite the newest addition to the team, Robert Lang.
But let's have a little breakdown of the possibilities.
First line: Andrei Kostitsyn - Tomas Plekanec - Alexei Kovalev
The "Three Amigos" have been under the high lights all season long. Their respective statistics (53, 69, and 84 pts) are the proof of their on-ice chemistry.
Both Kostitsyn and Kovalev are strong enough to handle the work in the corners, and all three players have a lot of speed and scoring abilities. They also developed themselves as penalty killers, in addition to their great work on the power play.
Robert Lang posted his career bests with Alex Kovalev back in Pittsburgh. Looking forward to create this chemistry again, Lang seems to expect a spot with the AK-27, which would probably result in a line of Kostitsyn - Lang - Kovalev.
However, this first line as it stands should not be broken up unless we see a big splash this season, which I don't think will happen at all. Of course, the season is long, and the two former teammates should be reunited at some time in those 82 games.
Second trio: Chris Higgins - Saku Koivu - Alex Tanguay
Tanguay is a LW, and hasn't played right for a while. However, the new Canadiens acquisition stated in an interview that he would not mind being RW on a line with Saku Koivu. Meanwhile, both Koivu and Higgins should finally see this sparkle they were waiting for in their new linemate.
Two years ago, they were the first trio of the team, with Michael Ryder on the right. But since Ryder's struggles, things haven't be looking bright for Koivu and Higgins either. Coach Carbo tried to put the three so-so players together to have their 2006-07 sparkle back, but three wrongs did not make it right.
In the case that Higgins struggles again in the traffic, and Guillaume Latendresse shows those improvements he talked about during summer, Tanguay might move back to left, creating a line of Tanguay - Koivu - Latendresse.
Latendresse already played on Koivu's line a few times in the past, with great results. If Latendresse develops a more-imposing type of play, he could be a great help for Koivu. That would move Higgins on the third.
Third line: Sergei Kostitsyn - Robert Lang - Guillaume Latendresse
Kostitsyn was on the first line for the days when Ryder was benched. With amazing speed, a strong style of play, and great passing skills, he can become a great replacement for Kovalev to Lang.
Guillaume Latendresse, coming to the end of his contract, should be able to hold on to the third line without that much trouble. Hopefully faster, stronger, and with a better puck control, he should do fine.
I would not change that. Of course, in the case that Lang moves up to the first line with Kovalev, Plekanec becomes the third-line center. And if Latendresse moves up to the second with Koivu, that would give us Kostitsyn - Plekanec - Higgins. But I doubt very much that will happen.
Fourth line: The rest of the team - The entire Bulldogs Lineup - The fighters !
Well, we have a situation here. But it will probably go with Steve Begin - Max Lapierre - George Laraque.
On the left, Steve Begin could share a spot with newcomer Greg Stewart. On the center, Lapierre might receive a visit from Kyle Chipchura. And finally on the right, Tom Kostopoulos and Mathieu Dandenault are also still on the list. But Lapierre already expressed a willingness to play along with Laraque.
What about moving Laraque to the third line to share the spot with Latendresse? He will also be a better muscles addition to Lang, along with the young Kostitsyn. That would leave the possibility to have an occasional Begin-Lapierre-Dandenault line, a lot of speed and a lot of hits. Great spectacle!
Note: A writer here on BR told me not to expect Stewart to graduate soon, with the muscle already in place with Laraque and Kostopoulos. Probably right.
Mike Komisarek - Andrei Markov
They have been the Laurel and Hardy of the team so far. A big body and a robust type of play from the one, and smart defensive abilities from the other.
However, it should be interesting to see Markov's new mate on the PP, since the departure of Mark Streit has opened up a spot. Patrice Brisebois has been on the point a few times back in 2008, but I can't picture the duo.
In the case that Mathieu Carle graduates, and he can develop a more precised role in the defensive squad, his slapshot would be well welcomed. The kid just broke the glass at the Bell Center earlier in the week. But having a rookie on the PP, despite his shooting strength, is risky.
Roman Hamrlik - Ryan O'Byrne
Hamrlik has been helpful for Dion Phaneuf back in this latter's rookie days in Calgary. Having played a certain number of games last year with O'Byrne, he will be a good mentor for the young defenseman. He could also be a valuable asset on the PP.
In the case that Carle gets onto the Montreal roster, Hamrlik would be the most complete defenseman to take him under his wing.
Francis Bouillon - Josh Georges
Georges has established himself a name on the blue line with his smart plays and great speed. Bouillon represents a stronger type of player—lots of hits, and a lot of work in the corners.
Patrice Brisebois - Someone in there who would graduate.
The rookie would play with Hamrlik, while Brisebois would make a nice pair with Ryan O'Byrne.
But he would have the spot of seventh defenseman, which involves a few nights watching games from the stands. Eventually, he would replace O'Byrne.
The Power Play
The players appreciated Carbonneau's initiative to keep the same lines during the man advantage. We should then expect to see the first two lines opn the power, along with Markov, Hamlrik, Brisebois, and maybe Mike Komisarek.
Of course, we should expect a few surprises—as always—from coach Carbonneau.
Personally, my curiosity brought me to imagine a Tanguay - Koivu - Kovalev line, or Lang instead of Koivu. It would be also a great scenario to have Plekanec between the brothers Kostitsyn.
Talking about scenarios, the movie "Pour toujours, les Canadiens" features Hockey legends like Jean Beliveau. A few members of this year's squad, such as Saku Koivu and Carey Price, will also be seen on stage. In theatres in 2009.
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