Montreal Canadiens v Boston Bruins - Game Seven

What Went Wrong: Montreal Canadiens

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Much like how it was for the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, or Buffalo Sabres it’s tough to find a way to pick on a team that just went seven games in a series. Like how it was for the Blackhawks, it’s even harder to do when you take your opponent to seven games.

For the Canadiens, what ailed them was something not so easily found in the statistics but more in the manner of play and team philosophy. After all, when you’re going up against a team that’s a virtual mirror opposite, it’s tough to crack them to win four games.

Where did Montreal go wrong? It’s more of a matter of opinion than anything else.

1. Offensive pressure? What’s that?
Jacques Martin is known as one of the better defensive coaches in the NHL and for good reason. Look at what his defensive-minded stylings did for the Habs in last year’s playoffs against the two biggest offenses in the NHL. He was able to draw up a strategy to hold up the Caps and Penguins and frustrated them to no end. When they end up against a team with more of a defensive mindset, however, it doesn’t work out so well.

Think of it like a staring contest. They’ll throw the same kind of game at each other to see who blinks, or in this case takes a penalty, first. The plan of attack was similar for Montreal. Jump out quickly in the opening minutes to see if you can catch the Bruins napping. If the Habs scored, perfect. They could sit back and defend and pull out the soccer style of defense and essentiall y “park the bus” in front of Carey Price.

For a good part of the series, Montreal was great at that as the Habs blocked 144 shots through the series, one shot shy of the Lightning for the top mark. Considering that Boston sent 243 shots on goal through the series, they had ample time to pepper the goal.

2. Too reliant on the power play
Montreal scored 17 goals in their seven game series against Boston. Six of those goals came with the man advantage. Two of those six came on 5-on-3 power plays. Montreal went 6-27 on the power play in the series and while that’s all well and good, scoring more than a third of your goals on the power play is a tough way to live life. Penalties will happen no matter what but when you’re banking on them to generate your offense, it’s a high risk way to live life in the playoffs. Fortunately for Montreal the Bruins were totally inept on the power play which gave the Habs the leeway to be more patient. If the Bruins connected at a normal rate at all in this series, there’s no way it goes seven games.

3. Playing desperate only when it was a desperate situation
When Montreal got aggressive in their offensive game it generally only came with the team down a goal late in the game. When the Habs applied themselves like that they looked awfully tough. They could get offense from anywhere be it Brian Gionta, Andrei Kostitsyn, Mike Cammalleri, Yannick Weber, or P.K. Subban. That kind of offensive desperation made the Habs exciting to watch because they do have great skill players there. It’s tough to watch guys like that have to play dump-and-change hockey most of the night only to see them get a “button” pushed late when they’re behind to finally start pushing the pressure. The Habs are a team that could’ve learned from the past that safe is indeed death.

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Montreal is a very talented team and Carey Price was outstanding throughout this series and all season long. There are many in Montreal who share my frustrations with how Martin coaches the team (All Habs did a two part series on it in February – Part 1, Part 2) and while that’s part of the problem, what Martin does defensively is what makes the Habs as good as they are.

Unfortunately, that only makes them good enough to make the playoffs and not a serious Stanley Cup contender.

How the Montreal Canadiens feel about Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty

Boston Bruins v Montreal Canadiens
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As the NHL ponders what kind of punishment is appropriate for Zdeno Chara and the hockey world hopes that Max Pacioretty’s injuries aren’t career-threatening, it’s important to note how players are reacting.

Despite the fact that this hit was a perfect storm of historical bad blood and horrible timing, it’s not exactly an extraordinary moment considering the revenge-minded climate that often pollutes the game. (Last night was, after all, the seven year anniversary of Todd Bertuzzi’s atrocious attack on Steve Moore.)

It’s natural, then, to wonder how Pacioretty’s Montreal Canadiens teammates feel about the incident. Will they be out for blood the next time the two teams meet? Do they think that Chara intended to injure Pacioretty? Here are a couple of comments straight from Canadiens players, via Ken Campbell of The Hockey News.

Players in the NHL are also hyper aware of their surroundings and who is on the ice at all times – or at least they should be. Given that line of reasoning, Pacioretty’s teammate Michael Cammalleri has no doubt Chara knew exactly who he was dealing with when he lined Pacioretty up. Cammalleri said he still had not seen the hit, but had a feel for what his teammates thought about it.

“What people are upset in this room is that I guess he drove the elbow through the head with an intent to injure kind of thing,” Cammalleri said. “I don’t think Chara premeditated this, but from experience when a player gets under your skin for whatever reason, you remember it and you notice when he’s out there. You know whom you’re playing against. Especially a divisional opponent because you’re so familiar. You can almost tell by the movements of a player. There’s a lot of tells, from what brand of stick they’re using to how they tape it.”

Canadiens goalie Carey Price said the history between Chara and Pacioretty probably played a part. In a Jan. 8 game between the Canadiens and Bruins, Pacioretty scored in overtime, then shoved Chara out of the way, which was the genesis of the hard feelings between the two players.

“Well that’s the whole thing,” Price said. “They do kind of have a history and that adds fuel to the fire. The only person who knows is (Chara).”

When I first reacted to the hit, I couldn’t help but mention that overtime goal (and Chara’s angry reaction) as well as the ultra-violent previous game between the Boston Bruins and Canadiens. It’s easy to wonder whether or not the two players’ previous history factored into the ugly hit by Chara.

Ultimately, we may not ever know what Chara was really thinking, but we will know if the NHL will give him more time to think about it with a suspension soon enough.

Bruins’ Brad Marchand not a big fan of the Montreal Canadiens

Montreal Canadiens v Boston Bruins

Tonight in Montreal is the first game between the Canadiens and the Boston Bruins since their fight-filled 8-6 Bruins victory back in February. It’s an original six rivalry that feels as old as time and seeing these two old rivals play the feud felt like good old fashioned old time hockey.

For Bruins rookie forward Brad Marchand, he’s picked up the torch of the rivalry and is running with it. Today, Marchand spoke with CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty and shared his thoughts about what he thinks of the Montreal Canadiens and how they play hockey. If you think things might go quietly tonight between the two teams, Marchand’s words might fire things up like gasoline on a fire.

“We have to not worry about them diving and chipping away at us,” said Marchand. “We just have to play physical and things will be all right.

“They like to get in and shoot their mouths off, and then when you hit them they dive down easy. They give a lot of shots behind the play, back of the legs and stuff like that. Then when we run them they play it off like they didn’t deserve it. It’s the kind of team they are. They’re pretty good at it.”

Marchand said much of what happened in February’s penalty-filled homage to “Slap Shot” was a result of Boston refusing to turn the other cheek at any of Montreal’s cheap shots, and instead forcing the normally evasive Les Habitants to pay for their crimes against hockey.

“It’s tough. It’s very frustrating. When you have a team like we do that’s big, tough and strong you don’t want to take any of it,” said Marchand. “I think that’s kind of what happened in the last game. Guys weren’t putting up with it, and I don’t think [the Canadiens] wanted to back down. That’s why things got so crazy. That’s what happens when you want to play that kind of game.”

Them’s fighting words. Yes, the irony that Marchand is fighting back with his words while picking on the Habs for running their mouths is there, but considering the physical beating the Bruins laid on Montreal last month, we’re not doubting his ability to fight back.

As for whether or not Marchand will seek payback on Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban for hitting him with a pair of brutal (but very legal) body checks, Marchand tells Haggerty that he’ll hit him if he gets the chance to but going out of his way to do so comes with a price in that Marchand has become a solid penalty killer for the Bruins. Getting booked for a reckless penalty hurts the Bruins in more than one way.

As for who Marchand puts the pressure on the most in tonight’s game, he says the focus is on the officials to make sure things don’t get hog wild the way they did last time around. More from Haggerty:

“If [the refs] don’t take control of it early in the game then things are going to get really chippy,” said Marchand. “We heard that they were a little upset about [Spacek] and Hamrlik getting into fights, but they willingly dropped the gloves. Nobody made them. [Gregory] Campbell didn’t want to get into a fight, but he did anyway.

“They threw the first punch. They stir the pot and they got what they deserve. It wasn’t our fault. They played into our hands. Whatever they’re mad about they can suck it up. It’s not our fault.”

It always takes two to tango.

We’re pretty sure the fans in Montreal will be busy letting him and the officials know how they feel tonight from Bell Centre.

So what now for P.K. Subban and the Montreal Canadiens?

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A lot of times, a savvy coach will pick the right time to use a healthy scratch to motivate a player by making him watch a game from the press box. This is an especially useful tactic with young players, particularly ones who might lack some perspective after jumping quickly to the NHL level.

Yet when it comes to the Montreal Canadiens and their talented (but some might say difficult) rookie P.K. Subban, some wonder if that lecture is dragging on a bit too long.

Canadiens coach Jacques Martin decided to make Subban a healthy scratch for the last three games, which would seem stunning out of context. Of course, the reason that Martin isn’t crazy for his stance is pretty simple: the Habs won all three of those contests without Subban.

Still, at some point, Subban is going to return. After all, Montreal fans were clamoring for his presence during a power play in the team’s last game (chanting “Peekay Peekay” according to All Habs.net).

(That’s not to say Subban has been an offensive machine, though, as his one goal and eight assists for nine points in 25 games is far from world-beating.)

Rick Stephens of All Habs considers who might need to go to make room for Subban, noting that it wouldn’t necessarily need to be a “one-size fits all” solution.

It would be a mistake to view the spot in the line-up as a competition between [Yannick] Weber and Subban. Yet, some will insist. Martin has even compared situation to Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak last season.

Some will incorrectly view the result as a success. In truth, as conceived by Martin, it is an archaic, destructive method of coaching which inevitably produces a casualty. A more progressive mind should be able to produce a win-win environment.

Picard seems to be the odd man out. He has mostly played above expectations but still suffers coverage lapses and offers little when the Canadiens have the man advantage. While he has filled in admirably, Picard is the logical candidate to head to the press box.

It is also an opportunity for coach Martin to use the defensive depth to provide an occasional day off for his veteran defenders. If framed properly, it could be positive not punitive and would ensure that players like Jaroslav Spacek, Hal Gill and Roman Hamrlik are paced for the long season.

Stephens’ idea to occasionally spell Spacek, Gill and Hamrlik is especially interesting. The Canadiens have been hit hard by injuries at times on their blueline, particularly to seemingly doomed offensive defenseman Andrei Markov. Gill and Hamrlik bring a veteran presence that is even more valuable once the team enters the tighter checking playoffs, so the team might be wise to keep them as fresh as possible.

Subban is a promising young player, but the problem is that he’s also keenly aware of that promise. It’ll be interesting to see if the blue chip blueliner will react well to this attempted injection of humility … whenever he gets the chance to come back, that is.

Montreal Canadiens waive winger Dustin Boyd

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Much like fellow waiver wire victim Brian McGrattan in Ottawa, Montreal Canadiens winger Dustin Boyd shouldn’t be too surprised that he was waived today. That’s exactly what happened, though, according to TSN.

When you spend a handful of games as a healthy scratch – as Boyd did during the five-game period that went from October 22 to November 1 – it’s often just a matter of time before you get sent down to the minors. Any NHL team can claim the 24-year-old forward on waivers, but if no one claims him he’ll report to the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs.

Boyd is making only $650K on a one-year contract and will be a restricted free agent after this season, so if a team deems him to be a worthy investment, they can snatch him up at little cost.

The deeming him a worthy investment part might be a little tricky, though. That’s because he’s been a marginal player at best in Montreal, scoring only one goal while putting up a dismal -6 rating in nine games this season.