The Montreal Canadiens might have a had a bit of a Game 7 hangover in their first game against the Penguins, but in Game 2 they went right back to the formula that so successful for them against the Washington Capitals. Jaroslav Halak was back to being the confident goaltender that was so reliable in round one, but more importantly the Canadiens were able to frustrate the Penguins’ best player — much along the same lines that Alex Ovechkin was frustrated.
While it’s tough to say that Crosby played poorly, there’s no doubt that the Canadiens did a much better job of shutting him down this game than they did in Game 1. The Penguins were able to get 39 shots on net against the Habs, yet Crosby and Evgeni Malkin managed just four shots between them and were a combined minus-3 on the game.
The Canadiens have been able to perfect a method for frustrating two of the top offensive teams in the NHL, and it’s an approach that is dangerous in concept yet can be very successful if it works. While in the first game the Habs allowed the Penguins to win the puck battles and have the space to make patient, clean plays across the ice the Habs were able to keep the Penguins to the perimeter and use their physicality and hard work to create their chances.
They were especially physical with Crosby, who took obvious exception to his treatment at times. The Canadiens were not going to allow him space to work his magic, and at one point Crosby snapped his stick against the goal post in frustration. Crosby wasn’t playing poorly, but the Habs were able to do just enough to get him off his game.
As is always the case in game like these, special teams became a key to the win for the Canadiens. The Habs killed off three straight penalties between the end of the second period and the start of the third, allowing a couple of shots but able to minimize the scoring chances. It’s similar to what we saw against the Capitals as well; the Habs allowed a high number of shots yet Jaroslav Halak didn’t have to be miracle worker he was in round one.
So now we head back to Montreal in the exact position that the Canadiens wanted. After a split in Pittsburgh, the Habs now have home ice advantage in a series that goes back to square one. You have to wonder if the approach that worked so well in Game 2 — scoring two goals on nine shots in the last two periods — is far from the plan the Canadiens will be successful with in a seven game series.
It’s impossible for a team to be grossly outshot game after game and still win a series…right?