Capitals vs. Canadiens Game 7: Keys to the game

HabsFan.jpgIn case you didn’t know, last night was the first of back-to-back
Game 7’s. While the Detroit Red Wings taking on the Phoenix Coyotes
isn’t exactly as momentous a game as the Habs having a chance to knock
off the Capitals, there are some similarities between the two games.

Despite
the Coyotes heading into the game with the better record and home ice
advantage, there were many who considered the Red Wings to be the better
team. After all, the Wings had finished the regular season as the
hottest team in the NHL and had fought back to the 5th seed after a
first half of the season riddled with injuries. Add to that the overall
talent level and experience of the Red Wings, and it’s easy to see why
the Coyotes were considered the underdogs.

Yet the Coyotes were
able to take the Red Wings to the brink with a Game 7, as they at times
surprised Detroit with their tenacity and overall team approach to the
game. The Coyotes won as a team, yet the Red Wings were only going to do
as good as their superstars would perform. In the end, Detroit
dominated a guarded and ginger Coyotes team that seemed deathly afraid
of making any mistakes in the biggest game of the season. The Red Wings’
stars took over on their way to a 6-1 rout.

After the jump, some
lessons for both teams headed into tonight’s game that can be learned
from Detroit’s victory:

Don’t stray from what’s been
successful

Save for one game, the Canadiens have been able
to surprise the Capitals by jumping out to early leads and then
stifling the Capitals from there on out. In their first two wins, and
for the first 40 minutes of Game 2, it was the defense of the Habs that
did the trick, frustrating Alex Ovechkin and company to no end on their
way to surprising victories. In Game 6, it was the superb play of
Jaroslav Halak that did the trick, as he was calm and collected in net
and never out of control. Still, Ovechkin was held in check once again
by the defensive play of the Habs. This is what they’ll need to do once
more. It’s when they’ve strayed from this philosophy that they’ve gotten
themselves in trouble.

Weather the early storm

With
the Capitals facing a do-or-die game, on home ice, expect each and
every player on that team to hit the ice like they were shot out of a
cannon. The Capitals will be hungry and pissed off and fueled by what is
sure to be an insane home crowd. The key is not lose control when the
pressure is on and take bad penalties.  The Coyotes were able to
somewhat stay in the game early on, but found themselves down two quick
goals thanks to putting a talented team on the power play. Don’t play
with fire.

Don’t wait to “turn it on”

The
Capitals have been waiting to play a full 60 minute game for the entire
first round. Despite what their Game 3 and 4 wins may say, even the
Capitals will admit they weren’t their best overall effort. The Capitals
have had this issue since returning from the Olympic break, really, as
they’ve literally had nothing to play for the past month of the season.
Now they’re being asked to play their best hockey when it counts the
most. Against this team, a Canadiens team with nothing to lose and
everything to gain, the Capitals must finally put together a complete
game. The Red Wings were able to put the accelerator to the floor when
it mattered most, jumping all over a Coyotes team that was doubting
itself at times. This is what the Capitals will need to do.

The
superstars will have to shine

The Capitals will not win
this game unless Alex Ovechkin is their best player. Sure, you could say
the same thing about Semyon Varlamov, but this is why Ovechkin was
named captain of the team. The rest of the players feed off of his
energy and production; if he’s frustrated and not driving the play
forward, then it’s going to tough for the rest of the team to follow
suit. The Capitals are starting two young defenseman on the blueline
tonight, so the uber-talented forwards the Captials employ will need to
be better than they ever have been before. While Backstrom, Semin and
Green all need to rise to the occasion, it’s Ovechkin who will be the
difference. If he truly is as great as we all think he is, this is his
time to shine.

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    Looking to make the leap: Matthew Tkachuk

    BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Matthew Tkachuk celebrates with the Calgary Flames after being selected sixth overall during round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    This is part of Calgary Flames day at PHT…

    Even though the 2015-16 season was a disappointing one for the Calgary Flames, they still have a great young core of young forward talent. They added to that group at the 2016 NHL draft when they selected Matthew Tkachuk with the No. 6 overall pick, immediately making him one of the team’s top prospects.

    The 18-year-old forward is coming off of a monster season for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League that saw him score 30 goals and add 77 assists in only 57 games.

    When you combine his skill, size and strength he has the potential to add a power forward dimension to the Flames lineup that none of their young forwards currently possess. That could make him an intriguing candidate to make the NHL roster as early as this season, and even though he did not skate at the team’s prospect evaluation camp (something the Flames were OK with given how much hockey he played last year) he is entering camp with the mindset that he is going to make the team right away.

    Because of his age he is not yet eligible to play in the American Hockey League, and as he showed last season during his time with an incredible London team he doesn’t really have much left to prove at the junior level after putting up absolutely massive numbers as a 17-year-old.

    If nothing else a nine-game look in the NHL to start the season seems like a very real possibility.

    It’s not like the Flames are opposed to giving recent draft picks an early look in the NHL if they show they belong. Sean Monahan made the immediate jump to the NHL after being selected in 2013, while Sam Bennett played a role in the 2014-2015 playoffs after he was selected with the No. 4 overall pick that year. There is no reason to think that Tkachuk can’t do the same. Especially when Brian Burke has already referred to his style of play as “kind of a pain in the ass” and that the Flames don’t have enough guys that are like that.

    With Monahan, Bennett and Johnny Gaudreu already in place the Flames have an exciting young group of forwards that have already shown they can be top-line players in the NHL.

    It is not going to be long before Tkachuk joins them.

    It’s Calgary Flames day at PHT

    PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 29: Sean Monahan #23 of the Calgary Flames celebrates his goal with teammates against the Philadelphia Flyers during the first period at Wells Fargo Center on February 29, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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    If you want to boil the Calgary Flames’ past two seasons down simply, you could do worse than this:

    In 2014-15: Bob Hartley won the Jack Adams Award.

    In 2015-16: The Flames fired Bob Hartley.

    The Flames finished this past season with 77 standings points, missing the playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven years.

    While Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan survived the sophomore curse, the Flames couldn’t survive in their own end. No team allowed more goals than the 260 Calgary surrendered last season. It cost people some jobs, most notably that of Hartley.

    Off-season

    Naturally, the first big change in Calgary comes with Glen Gulutzan replacing Hartley behind the bench.

    Much like the team he’s coaching, Gulutzan needs to get over some past failures (he failed to make the playoffs during his two seasons coaching the Dallas Stars) but is young enough (45) to argue that the best days are ahead.

    To little surprise, the Flames decided that Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio isn’t necessarily the group of goalies to get things done. The Flames brought in two-time All-Star Brian Elliott to try to right the ship.

    The Flames didn’t stop there, adding Chad Johnson as Elliott’s backup. With a .917 career save percentage, Johnson could very well keep Elliott on his toes.

    Aside from big improvements behind the bench and in the net, the Flames’ most noteworthy work came in extending Sean Monahan,* picking up Troy Brouwer and landing Matthew Tkachuk in the draft.

    Calgary is making a lot of strong moves, but did they make enough to climb back into the postseason in 2016-17? PHT will explore these factors on Saturday.

    * – Naturally, the biggest move needs to come soon: also handing an extension to Gaudreau.

    Avalanche’s new head coach Bednar is at least saying the right things

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    Look, there are exceptions, but new head coach press conferences feature the same basic terms and buzzwords.

    After witnessing the high-octane Pittsburgh Penguins skate opponents ragged on their way to the 2016 Stanley Cup, any reasonable coach would throw “speed” into their phrasing.

    Still, the Colorado Avalanche have been so deeply buried by even the most basic of modern measurements that you had to wonder: would they learn from Patrick Roy’s struggles? Can someone come in and at least attempt to keep up with the pack?

    We won’t know for sure anytime soon, but hey, at least Jared Bednar seems to be saying the right things as he transitions from the AHL to the Avalanche’s head coaching gig.

    When discussing his hire with NHL Network, Bednar seemed confident that his style in the AHL – “Up-tempo, aggressive style in all three zones of the rink” – will translate well in Colorado.

    That interview hits the beats you’d expect from job interviews beyond hockey. There’s even a “detail-oriented” bit.

    (If you space out, you might just assume there’s a mention of thinking outside the box, like every corporate interview in human history.)

    Still, it’s OK to settle for baby steps, especially considering the tough situation Patrick Roy created in abruptly skipping town. For many, it might just be comforting to note that Bednar doesn’t outright dismissive “analytics” or “fancy stats.”

    Mile High Hockey brings up a great point: if nothing else, the spotlight will shift from the Avalanche’s flamboyant head coach to the talented core of young players.

    So, not only is Colorado bringing in a coach who is as savvy with spreadsheets as he is with the wipe-off board, but he’s going to allow the players to crawl out from under Roy and finally earn their own accomplishments. This is every bit as important as fixing the breakout play or eliminating the Collapse-O-Rama™ defensive system.

    (Collapse-O-Rama, huh? Can we stash that term for future use regarding another coach or two?)

    Bednar isn’t a retread, so we only know so much about what to expect.

    There are positive early signs. Roll your eyes all you want, we have seen more than a few successful transitions from AHL glory (Bednar just won the Calder Cup) to the NHL.

    He’s not necessarily anti-information and seems at least interested in implementing modern, attacking systems. Attacking systems that, theoretically, would best suit the talents of a gifted-but-flawed group.

    It all feels a little vague, but then again, it’s not even September yet. So far, so good.

    One way or another, Al Montoya will be important to Canadiens

    WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 02:  Goalie Al Montoya #35 of the Florida Panthers looks on in the second period against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center on February 2, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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    This is part of Canadiens day at PHT …

    Here’s an unsolicited opinion: a good backup goalie is often underrated.

    Yes, getting a quality Plan B is easier said than done – goalies are an unpredictable lot – but it’s simple to see when it pays off.

    (There are plenty of examples, but Matt Murray winning a Stanley Cup for the Pittsburgh Penguins is the shiniest one.)

    Even if injuries aren’t a big issue, a No. 2 goalie is a pretty safe bet to play 20 games for a given team. In that regard, Al Montoya could be a significant upgrade over Mike Condon, and that could be important.

    Waning workhorses

    In 2015-16, no goalie played 70 regular season games. Jonathan Quick was the workhorse of the NHL with 68, while only 10 played at least 60. So, more than two-thirds of last season’s teams needed at least 24 games from their lesser-paid goalies.

    Even in Carey Price‘s dominant 2014-15 campaign, he played 66 games while Dustin Tokarski was in net for 17.

    Let’s ponder the outlook for a variety of scenarios as Price hopes to rebound from injury:

    If Price resumes Vezina-caliber form

    As PHT notes, Price seems confident that he’s at 100 percent.

    That’s great … but what else is he going to say? Knee injuries can beguile just about any athlete.

    He does admit that he’s getting up there in age a bit – relative to the sport, mind you – at 29. Earlier this summer, the Hockey News went over Montreal’s plan to scale Price’s workload a bit, injured or not.

    So, even in a dream scenario, Montoya and/or Condon will still see plenty of reps.

    If Price falters

    The Canadiens are expected to live or die by Price. Let’s not kid ourselves.

    The leash might not be very long for Michel Therrien if Price really falls on his face, however. A Condon-led Habs team stumbled terribly, but what might we see from Montoya being thrust into the spotlight for performance reasons?

    • With a .909 career save percentage, Montoya’s experienced his stumbles in the NHL. Montreal has to hope he follows more of the path from strong showings in 2013-14 (13-8-3, .920 save percentage with Winnipeg) and 2015-16 (12-7-3, .919 save percentage with Florida).

    Long story short, there were flashes of the brilliance you’d expect from a guy who went sixth overall in 2004.

    • The good news is that he’s accustomed to a fairly heavy backup duty. He set a career-high with 31 games played and 26 starts with the Islanders in 2011-12. Including that season, he’s enjoyed 20+ appearances in five of his last six seasons.
    • The bad news is that he hasn’t ever even carried half of a season’s workload so …

    Yes, a Price re-injury would be disastrous

    Montoya hasn’t been “the guy” before, certainly not in a pressure-cooker like Montreal. Condon’s opportunity didn’t go especially well.

    One can understand ownership giving Therrien and GM Marc Bergevin something of a “Price pass” after 2015-16, but would there be the same level of acceptance if they couldn’t thrive without their star goalie again? You’d have to ask about lessons learned.

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    Long story short, Montoya matters to Montreal. The Canadiens just have to hope that he doesn’t matter too much.