There’s something about facing off against Ottawa that brings out the best in the 25-year-old winger. Notching a goal and an assist in his first outing against the Sens on October 16, the five-year NHL veteran one-upped himself in the encore, potting his third and fourth goals of the season on Saturday night to earn first star honors for the second time in a week.
“When Andrei plays hard I think we have a really good chemistry between him, [Tomas] Plekanec and [Michael] Cammalleri,” offered head coach Jacques Martin, who’s already seeing some key differences between the Kostitsyn fans saw last year and the 2010-11 version of the Belarusian sniper. “I think first of all, last year his fitness level wasn’t up to par. But then he gave us a good stretch between games 20 and 40 before getting injured. This year, I think he’s had a much better start, he’s working harder and he’s driving the net.”
With his fourth goal in seven games so far, Kostitsyn leap-frogged his sharp-shooting linemates for the team scoring lead. Cammalleri isn’t surprised at all to see his fellow winger at the top of the pack.
“He’s got such a dynamic skill set and he’s doing things right all over the ice,” confirmed Cammalleri, who picked up an assist on Kostitsyn’s second goal on Saturday night. “It’s paying off and that’s nice to see. I think we all know what he’s capable of and his level of focus is where it needs to be. He’s been consistently good, he’s playing at the top of his game and it’s fun playing with him.”
Part of the line’s current success on the ice also has to do with how well the trio has bonded away from the rink.
“What helps is the longer we get to play with each other and the more we get to know one another, there’s a certain trust factor there now,” suggested Cammalleri. “Sometimes it’s hard for these guys because there’s a language barrier and there’s a cultural barrier. The longer you get to know somebody, the more you can build that trust and the easier it is to support each other on the ice.”
When asked last week what the secret was to keeping Kostitsyn rolling at this pace all season-long, Plekanec suggested the key is making sure he and Cammy keep the speedy winger happy. Judging by Saturday’s results, Kostitsyn’s linemates have been doing exactly that.
“I’m not going to tell you the secrets to how we keep him happy,” joked Cammalleri. “But it’s great to see that big Belarusian smile on his face.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com
Numbers Game - Oct. 23 - 2010
3 stars of the game
The notebook - October 23, 2010