It’s one of hockey’s most-uttered clichés. Ask any coach, player or likely even fan and they’ll tell you it takes a full team effort to win hockey games.
Well, yes and no. While it’s true no club achieves elite status without a consistent, cohesive push, there’s no denying individuals can – and must – carry clubs for stretches.
Take, for instance, the past week of goaltending turned in by Jaroslav Halak. The 23-year-old puckstopper picked up his team at what was truly a dire point in its season. Neither Halak nor Carey Price had consistently given the Habs the kind of goaltending they required and that was just one of the dilemmas Montreal was trying to solve.
But Halak stepped up when his team needed him most and, quite frankly, may have salvaged its season in the process.
Winning builds confidence, even when it basically comes on the back of one individual’s work. It gives guys a chance to snap out of funks without the pall of losing hanging over their heads.
Now that Halak has provided a crack of daylight, it’s up to others to run with the ball for a while.
The first priority has to be improved defensive play. Maybe Mike Komisarek can lead the way in making sure Halak has a little more down time in the crease. Making 40 saves a night might do wonders for a goalie’s personal statistics, but it’s clearly not a sustainable approach for a team that still has a great shot to open the playoffs on home ice.
The Canadiens need to be more forceful in dictating the pace of games. Perhaps Maxim Lapierre, who’s been a very sturdy citizen for Montreal this year, can make sure his team stays on the offensive when the top two lines aren’t on the ice.
Newcomer Mathieu Schneider has been excellent since coming over from Atlanta and Tomas Plekanec has shaken a season-long slump to become an effective point-producer of late.
All of that has helped the Canadiens turn a corner as a team, but they still need more individuals rising up to play the role of leading men on a regular basis if they’re going to compete with the Eastern Conference’s elite.
This column also appears in the Montreal Metro newspaper.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
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