Role Players are Golden Commodities
February 12, 2009 by Big Tony
In all sports there is always talk about the superstars and what they bring to teams. A lot of fans—teams for that matter—expect superstars to be super heroes. Like all sports people see superstars on a team and assess their team’s chances based on—essentially—the big names alone. Now that the NHL season has hit February a lot of teams who were successful last year are learning—if they didn’t know already—how much impact a role player can have on a team’s success or lack thereof. Two great examples of that are the Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens.
Granted, the Penguins lost Marian Hossa in the offseason but even before him the Penguins were a pretty good team; but along with Hossa they lost a number of role players and now they find themselves struggling just to get into the playoffs. Pittsburgh is really missing the toughness of Georges Laraque but also his ability to handle the puck down low in the offensive zone which really helps protect leads, something the Penguins have really struggled to do. Another thing the Penguins have not had a lot of are “garbage” goals in front of the net because nobody is willing to stand in front of the net to take that punishment the way Ryan Malone did. A strong presence in front of the net for any team is invaluable and it was almost poetic for Ryan Malone to score one of those “garbage” goals against the Penguins in Tampa’s 4-3 loss at Pittsburgh last week. Likewise, Jarkko Ruutu’s ability to not only draw penalties but frustrate the other team getting them to focus on things other than winning the game was priceless. Pittsburgh has a pretty good chance of making the playoffs with the team they have assembled but they would be in better shape with at least those three guys back in all likelihood.
The free-falling Montreal Canadiens role player issues focus mainly on losing Mark Streit to the Islanders. With Streit the Canadiens had an incredible power play that made teams who took penalties against them pay dearly and pay often. In the offseason the Canadiens lost Streit and now their power play is one of the worst in the league. The advantage of the power play is obvious but it is an even bigger deal when a team thrives on it because when its performance goes down the team is less likely to be successful. Since their power play is no longer lethal, the Canadiens needed other guys to accelerate their respective games to be successful and for most of the season they got that. Robert Lang became the team’s leading scorer providing them with more than they could have possibly hoped for from him. Along with Lang’s play Carey Price’s game had really improved and that allowed Montreal to stay afloat. But now Robert Lang is out for the season, Price has been struggling with his confidence and Kovalev’s play has been below average all year. As a result of these recent events the Canadiens are in a free-fall and coming dangerously close to missing the playoffs. Now, both Pittsburgh and Montreal know the value of role players more than ever before.