Max Pacioretty Helping the Canadiens Complete Their Team; More on Subban
Last night, Max Pacioretty finally made an impact.
In only his second game (in two nights) since being called up from the Hamilton Bulldogs at the end of the weekend, Pacioretty contributed a goal, as well as an assist in the Canadiens 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins.
While his goal was pretty fluky on a tough angle, and even his assist was a straight pass to Brian Gionta's eventual game winner in front of the net, you can't take anything away from this kid and his performance on Thursday night at the Bell Centre, where he was also awarded the first star of the game by the fans.
In fact, it could have been even more than a goal and an assist. Pacioretty was on fire on nearly ever shift, and several other plays could have resulted in goals for the line of Max Pac, Gionta and Scott Gomez, including an awesome pass to the captain halfway through the first was would have been a sure goal against almost any goaltender other than Tim Thomas.
So, what took so long to get this kid up here?
The Canadiens have obviously needed a player like Pacioretty all season long, he clearly has some chemistry with two of this team's highest paid players, and he seems to fit all the requirements for a top six winger in today's NHL. It's almost dumbfounding that it took 30 games to get him up here. And I'm not Monday Morning Quarterbacking here. In September, two weeks before the Canadiens' season started in Toronto, Scott Schmidt (@ShmitzySays on Twitter and inaugural TCL Habs Panelist, not to mention great blogger) challenged his fellow tweeps to build their own 12-man forward roster for the Canadiens heading into the season. Who they would put into the line-up, not Jacques Martin.
Of course I was among the writers who answered the bell, and, surprise surprise, I had Max Pacioretty on the first line along with (GASP) Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez!
I'm not going with the "I told you so" attitude here or anything of the sort. In fact, a lot of people seemed to agree that Patches would be a good fit not only in the line-up, but with those two specific forwards. All I'm doing is pointing out is that this solution was obvious to pretty much everyone before the season even began.
Now, I understand that Pacioretty may have needed some maturing, some time in the minors to really dominate at a lower level (and he did, as he was among the AHL leaders in points as well as goals when he was called up). But whatever knocks people had against Pacioretty should be history now. And yes, it's only two games, but it's two good games for the young winger, and two promising performances. And I see these promising performances continuing for Pacioretty for the rest of the season.
Does Pacioretty complete the Montreal Canadiens? Probably not. There are still some deficiencies on defense, and there is always room for improvement in the forward ranks. But he definitely helps complete them, in several different ways:
1) Perfect fit for the Gomez line
A recurring discussion this season has been the slow start of Scott Gomez as this team's highest paid player. Before missing this weekend's back-to-back in Detroit and Toronto with a lower-body injury, Gomez had but 4 goals and 5 assists in 26 games. He hadn't been playing badly, really, but he wasn't producing and he wasn't contributing offensively to the team. Since being paired with Pacioretty and one of his regular linemates Brian Gionta, Gomez has been on fire. He has 4 points in his last two games, and he finally has a big body to pass to in front of the net. Ironically, it seems as if the better due has been Pacioretty and Gionta, but Gomez's contributions should not go unnoticed. The three have been excellent at breaking the offensive zone and cycling the puck deep, and one can only hope that they will be able to keep it up and that Pacioretty's spark will burst into flames on the upcoming road trip.
2) Gives each line a big body
The addition of Max Pacioretty to the line-up allows each line to potentially have a big body on any give night. Pacioretty lines-up at 6'2" 210lbs. Andrei Kostitsyn hasn't exactly been playing as he should in recent games, but his 6'0" 210lbs frame has definitely had some good moments next to Cammalleri and Plekanec, and he has been known to throw some pretty decent hits when he wants to. The exactly same thing could be said about the 6'3" Benoit Pouliot, who lined up with his PhD linemates Jeff Halpern (6'0" 200lbs) and Matt Darche (6'1" 210lbs) were once the hottest line for the Canadiens. Finally, Travis Moen, who stands 6'2" 215lbs is arguably the Canadiens' best grinder, and while Jacques Martin can't seem to play a game without at least teasing us with Moen on one of the top two lines, he can be an excellent anchor for the 4th line. And let's not forget the team's leader in hits, 6'2" 200lbs Maxim Lapierre.
The Canadiens often get knocked on for their lack of size, but that's at least six big, tough players who know how to throw their bodies around, get to the dirty areas both in front of the opposing net and along the boards and really cause some havoc for the other team. Without Pacioretty, the Canadiens didn't really have the ability to put forth tough lines that could hit and do damage, but now they can spread it out and still put forth a tough 4th line with the likes of Lapierre and Moen, while keeping their scoring lines intact. Now, Martin has to actually do this, and give this team the four solid lines it deserves, instead of switching things the moment things start going bad, or even good when he wants to sit on a 1 goal lead.
3) No more grinders on the top two lines
No more Moen on the first line, no more overplaying Darche, no more pushing good, talented, big players like Kostitsyn and Pouliot down or even out of the line-up because you didn't like something that they did. Let these players adjust to each other and you'll see that a consistent line-up will really allow them to flourish as a group, and let Pacioretty give you the options to put together six players who can all score, instead of going with the defensively responsible players on your top units just so you don't give up a lead or even a tie. The Canadiens can even put together three scoring lines now, as mentioned above, if they decide to put the PhD line back together. The Habs are by no means as deep offensively as the Flyers or some other teams, but on paper and in action, you can see that this group plays well together and there is a lot of potential for continued chemistry. But again, Jacques Martin has to get over his habits and actually allow his players to develop this sustained chemistry. Can he do it?
4) Allows Pierre Gauthier to focus on picking up a defenseman
Fans have been arguing over what the main need of this team needs to be: a big forward or a top four defenseman. And frankly, there have been good arguments for both. But one player no one really considered was Max Pacioretty. He's big, he can and should be able to score at the NHL level, and he's an in-house solution to the big forward problem. Consider this, and point number 2 above, and it seems to me that the "big forward" problem sort of takes a back seat. Cammalleri and Gionta should continue to score goals, Plekanec should continue to be this team's best overall forward and Scott Gomez is looking like he's starting to pick his game up. Add in Pacioretty and either Kostitsyn or Pouliot to this group, and you really do have a decent top six.
On defense, it's another story. PK Subban's play has been hot and cold, sometimes even within the same game, Spacek and Hamrlik are overworked, Gill hasn't gotten into playoff form just yet, Picard is nothing more than a plug, Weber may not be able to handle full time NHL duty on the back-end, and I'm certain that Josh Gorges is hiding at least a couple of injuries. They're clearly missing Markov, and they clearly need some help. There's no denying it. As good as any of them can be on any given night, they don't have their number one defenseman, the one player this team's defense relies on and is built around. And it's not like they're waiting for him to come back. He's done for the year. And even if by some miracle he ends up playing again this season, there's absolutely no guarantee he'll ever be the same, top 10 NHL defenseman ever again.
With the hopefully full-time addition of Max Pacioretty to the line-up, Pierre Gauthier can finally allow himself to choose a path of action and focus on bringing in a defenseman to stabilize the back end. They have over five million dollars of cap space, they have the organizational depth and they have options. Go out and get a defenseman as soon as you can, so the Canadiens are not stuck with a player getting used to new linemates with only a handful of games left to play after the trade deadline. Gauthier can deal from a position of strength right now, and he needs to put all his nasty habits aside and take this opportunity, and be proactive about improving his team before the going gets tough.
I've stroked Pacioretty's ego a fair bit here and maybe even given him more credit than he deserved. And while some had an easier time than others placing their finger on what this group of forwards was missing, everyone agreed that there WAS a hole in the line-up. There is always the possibility of improving the group through trade, through a bigger name player, but when you consider the line-up, the one-way contracts, and the potential issues with chemistry, an in-house solution like Pacioretty has provided seems to be ideal.
There is of course the question of whether Pacioretty can keep it up, as well as the rest of the forwards, but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, as well as the next two weeks of road games to prove that they can sustain it, win or lose.
The issue is now transfered to the hole on defense, and one can only hope that Gauthier takes this opportunity and the Canadiens' cap space to fill the hole, sooner rather than later.
CBC AND PK SUBBAN
It seems as if every week, CBC has something bad to say about PK Subban. Until now, it was mostly contained to Don Cherry's inability to understand any hockey played after 1976, but last night, the disease spread like wildfire to Mike Milbury and former Hab PJ Stock, who bashed Subban for not dropping the gloves after challenged by the Bruins for this hit on Brad Marchand. The CBC goons felt like Subban needed to defend what he did for some reason by fighting Bruins heavyweight Shawn Thornton.
I don't really need to go into detail about why this makes no sense, but just to humor people here are several reasons why:
1) The hit was undeniably legal. Do players need to fight every time they make a big hit, from the front when the opposing player has his head 90 degrees down?
2) The Canadiens were up 2-1 at the time of the hit, defending a small lead. There was no reason to risk taking a useless penalty when the margin of error is slim at best.
3) Subban has taken on the role of this team's number one defenseman since the Markov injury. What sense is there in losing one of your star, key players for an entire five minutes?
4) The Bruins took a penalty for going after Subban, one that may not have been handed out of PK dropped the gloves.
5) It's 2010.
There is literally no reason for Subban to have to defend his actions every time he makes a big hit. Sure he's cocky, but the reason players go after him both on and off the ice (I'm looking at your Richards) is because they're intimidated by how good he is and how explosive he can be. They don't expect it, they don't see it coming and they're afraid of it. It wouldn't be fair to compare him to Crosby or Ovechkin or any other player who faces these issues in their first couple of years, but the reasons are definitely the same. Subban just has to ignore these useless and uneducated criticisms, play his game and ensure that he doesn't let the naysayers get to him, because the way he plays is the reason he's already a star.
Would he stand to benefit from toning down his attitude? Maybe. But he wouldn't be the first good player to have an attitude and frankly, Canadiens fans have fallen in love with him because of the way he is. Don't change a thing PK.
For more on this, read this great take on he situation by Hey My Name Is Will.
The Canadiens will have a rare Saturday off tomorrow as they prepare for their six game road-trip to close out 2010. The fun starts Sunday night in Colorado. We'll be with you every step of the way, so stay tuned and don't forget to visit our new site as well, Better With Popcorn!