2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 2: Once again, Niemi the difference for Hawks

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Niemi7.jpgBefore the postseason started, there were many early favorites for
who would be the recipient of the Conn Smythe at the end of the Stanley
Cup Playoffs. Of course, these would be dependent on the rest of their
team as well, but I doubt that anyone had Antti Niemi at the top of
their pool before the playoffs started.

Yet with the Chicago
Blackhawks two wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup over their heads
Niemi has been the consistent difference maker for his team, coming up
gigantic at the most crucial moment in games and always making the big
save when his team needed it most.

In Game 1, Niemi allowed five
goals in the first two periods as his team struggled
uncharacteristically on defense and he fought with his own confidence in
net. He didn’t resemble the consistent goaltender who played so great
against the Sharks, perhaps needing 40 minutes or so to get back in the
flow of the game after having some time off after the Conference finals.
Whatever reason it was, Niemi turned it around in the third period and
while he wasn’t tested a lot he made several big saves to preserve the
win for the Hawks.

Tonight, he looked very much like himself once
more. He was compact in his stance and playing forward in his crease,
challenging the shooters and tracking the puck through traffic much
better than in Game 1. He wasn’t truly tested until the second period,
when the Flyers started to really put the pressure on but it was in the
third period that Niemi truly shined.

The Flyers, facing a 2-0
deficit heading into the third, came alive and used their relentless
forecheck to knock the Blackhawks back on their heels. The pulled within
one goal when Simon Gagne’s slapshot hit a stick down low and knuckled
over the shoulder of Niemi and in. After that, Niemi was perfect as he
turned away shot after shot from the Flyers including several prime
scoring chances in the final minutes of the game.

He was calm and
collected in net, and with the Blackhawks once again struggling with the
offensive pressure of the Flyers he proved to be the difference maker.
He would finish with 32 saves on 33 shots, and ensured that the Flyers
would need to complete yet another miraculous comeback if they hoped to
win the Stanley Cup.

Before the series started, Jonathan Toews was
clearly the favorite for the MVP. With Toews completely shutdown so far
against the Flyers, and despite allowing five goals in Game 1, there
should be no doubt who the new leader is for the Conn Smythe. He hasn’t
always been perfect, but he has made the big saves and had the great
game when his team needed him most.

After the game, several of the
Flyers players stated that they didn’t feel they really tested Niemi
and they didn’t give him all they had. It’s tough to argue with that
statement, even when you consider the 15 shots on net they put up in the
third period.

Forget the amount of shots or the actual pressure
the Flyers were producing. Focus on the actual types of shots they were
putting on net. One thing the San Jose Sharks proved in the Western
Conference finals was that Antti Niemi is at his best when the puck is
shot low. He’s a traditional butterfly goaltender, and is nearly
unbeatable when he is on and the pucks are shot at his pads.

Don’t
you think the Flyers would see that, and think that perhaps the best
way to beat Niemi is up high? He doesn’t have the best upper-body
reflexes, not that great a glove hand. Yet in Game 2, the Flyers
consistently fired the pucks low, and Niemi turned them all aside. Now,
the Blackhawks defense has something to do with this as well but I can’t
explain my frustration while watching puck after puck being shot
directly into Niemi’s pads.

Niemi had a great game no doubt, but
the Flyers certainly helped.2

Adding toughness was an offseason priority for the Canadiens

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 12: Andrew Shaw #65 of the Chicago Blackhawks collides with Shea Weber #6 of the Nashville Predators at the United Center on January 12, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Predators 3-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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After a miserable 2015-16 season, the Canadiens needed fixing. This offseason, it became clear that Montreal wanted to be bigger, tougher and meaner.

It’s an interesting time to take that approach, especially when the NHL seems to be moving in a different direction.

The Pittsburgh Penguins used speed and skill to their advantage during their 2016 Stanley Cup journey and we should expect to see more teams try to emulate that this season.

But GM Marc Bergevin clearly isn’t interested in following the latest hockey trends.

Bergevin made two trades on draft night. He sent Lars Eller to Washington for a pair of draft picks and he acquired Andrew Shaw from the Chicago Blackhawks.

“Two Stanley Cups in five years,” Bergevin said of Shaw, per NHL.com. “I like guys who don’t like to lose. Everybody likes to win, everybody’s happy when you win. I want guys, when you lose, it gets them inside. It hurts. And then you go back to work the next day.

“Andrew Shaw has it. I was in Chicago long enough to know they don’t take losing with a grain of salt. I want guys who don’t like to lose.”

Days later, Bergevin stunned the hockey world when he shipped P.K. Subban to Nashville for Shea Weber.

Again, Subban is no push-over, but he isn’t as nasty as Shea Weber.

“He’s the toughest defenseman to play against in the NHL and I’m glad I don’t have to do any net-front battles with him again … maybe in practice,” Shaw said earlier this month, per the Montreal Gazette. “But I think it’s going to be huge for the team. He’s a good leader guy, a good team guy. He’s got that experience, too. He’s got that shot from the point that will help both on the power play and even strength as well. He’s just that big, strong man in front of the net that’s going to help out defensively as well.”

Clearly, the Canadiens feel that having Carey Price back and playing a physical brand of hockey will allow them to be competitive in the Eastern Conference.

Time will tell if they chose the right approach.

Under Pressure: Michel Therrien

GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 07:  Head coach Michel Therrien of the Montreal Canadiens watches from the bench during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on March 7, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Canadiens defeated the Coyotes 2-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Being a head coach in a hockey market like Montreal isn’t easy when times are good, so imagine how hard it can get when the team finishes near the bottom of the standings.

In his second stint as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens, Michel Therrien has had success. From 2011-12 to 2014-15, Therrien helped guide the Canadiens to a 125-64-23 record. But the “honeymoon” came to a crashing halt this season.

Montreal got off to a 9-0-0 start, but injuries to Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher derailed the Canadiens’ season.

With Price and Gallagher on the shelf, the Canadiens went through a miserable stretch in December. From Dec. 3 through Dec. 26, the Canadiens played 10 games and won just one those contests. Things didn’t get much better from there.

Without the defending Hart Trophy winner at their disposal, it’s normal that the Canadiens would dip a little bit, but the lack of solutions from the coaching staff was concerning.

The Habs have made plenty of changes to their roster after last season’s disappointment. Gone are Lars Eller and P.K. Subban and in come Shea Weber, Alexander Radulov and Andrew Shaw.

The Canadiens also added Kirk Muller as an associate coach, but the rest of the coaching staff remained intact.

“Given what we went through in the last six months, to panic and change everything, I’m not ready to do that,” Bergevin said in April, per CBC.ca. “I’ll look at every aspect of the organization to see where we can improve, but to turn everything upside down? No.

“Last year we had 110 points. I’m not ready to throw people out the door based on what happened this year. Nobody is walking away with a clean slate, but we have to break down what happened. Michel learned a lot. We all learned. We’re not happy. It’s my job to address this team moving forward, but Michel will be behind the bench on opening night.”

With plenty of off-season change and the return of Carey Price, there are no more excuses for Therrien. As loyal as GM Marc Bergevin has been to his head coach during this rough patch, don’t be surprised if a slow start costs Therrien his job.

Therrien has already been fired twice before (Montreal and Pittsburgh), so this could be his last head coaching gig in the NHL.

The pressure is definitely on.

Looking to make the leap: Sven Andrighetto

SUNRISE, FL - APRIL 2: Sven Andrighetto #42 of the Montreal Canadiens skates prior to the game against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on April 2, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Canadiens 4-3. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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This post is part of Montreal Canadiens day at PHT…

Heading into the off-season, it was clear that the Canadiens needed to address their lack of scoring.

They signed free agent winger Alexander Radulov on July 1st, but he’s far from a sure thing at this point. Montreal also traded a pair of second round picks for Andrew Shaw.

Depending on how things shape up in training camp, there could still be an opening at left wing on the team’s second line.

Sven Andrighetto, who spent parts of the last two seasons with Montreal, might be ready to make the leap and become a regular offensive contributor.

“My personal goal is to be on the roster,” Andrighetto said earlier this month. “I showed last year, I played 44 games and I want to be on the team full-time this year.”

The 23-year-old scored seven goals and 17 points during his stint with the big club last season.

Andrighetto’s greatest asset is his speed, which makes him a good fit for today’s NHL.

After his entry-level contract expired this summer, the Canadiens gave Andrighetto a one-year contract for this season. He’ll need to show them that he’s capable of being an everyday NHLer or he may need to find work elsewhere.

“I played with Andrighetto while Gallagher was hurt and he’s really shown flashes of greatness,” said captain Max Pacioretty. “He’s got tremendous skill. What it comes down to with a player like that is doing it game-in and game-out. We know the skill is there.”

It might be now or never for Andrighetto.

It’s Montreal Canadiens day at PHT

P.K. Subban,
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An injury to Carey Price essentially meant the beginning of the end to the 2015-16 season for the Montreal Canadiens.

With their No. 1 goalie, their most valuable player, out of the lineup, the Canadiens tumbled down the standings and missed the playoffs. The fan base in Montreal would feel even more frustration in the summer as general manager Marc Bergevin suddenly sent fan-favorite and right-shooting defenseman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for right-shooting defenseman Shea Weber in an absolute blockbuster deal.

Weber is four years older than Subban and under contract until 2026. Subban’s deal expires in 2022.

Subban feels closer to winning a Stanley Cup in Nashville than he did in Montreal. Weber isn’t going to try to be the next P.K. Subban in Montreal. And Bergevin, surely, has been feeling the heat for the controversial trade. Some in the media have called it the worst trade in franchise history. Subban is not only very talented on the ice, but he was popular away from it, too, in the city of Montreal.

Not only did the Habs lose Subban in the deal, but their analytics consultant, Matt Pfeffer, didn’t have his contract renewed because he reportedly disagreed with the trade. Pfeffer later confirmed he made a “passionate” case to keep Subban in Montreal.

The deal occurred on the same day the Edmonton Oilers traded star forward Taylor Hall to New Jersey for defenseman Adam Larsson. Yet, this Subban-Weber trade has provided material for the hockey world to debate and discuss just about every week for two months now. And you can bet that will happen when the season begins.

The Habs also signed forward Alexander Radulov to a one-year deal worth $5.75 million.

This is Radulov’s third stint in the NHL. He’s supremely talented and the Habs could use a player that can score goals. But he’s also been at the center of off-ice disciplinary issues, including a team-imposed suspension for reportedly violating curfew when he was in Nashville.

And getting back to Carey Price: He has been deemed to be 100 per cent healthy heading into the new season, after playing in only 12 games last season with a knee injury.