Sunday, 28 April 2013

Game One: EC Quarterfinal: Sens vs. Habs

QFirst Period:


- Having serious crowd envy here, the atmosphere in that building is oozing through my TV screen.

- Both coaches start their grinding line - messages sent.

- If Deharnais produces, the odds of this Habs team winning the series escalate drastically.

- Anderson is inclined to surrender the rebounds. Habs crashing the net looking for the loose puck could be very productive.

- Heckova crash into the boards by the prone Bourque, who skated a million miles an hour after a loose puck.

- More Anderson rebounds. Creating goods scoring opportunities.

- Anderson flashing the glove, making the save looking more difficult than reality.

- First six minutes definite edge to Habs, dominating tempo and puck control.

- Prust gets called for a board - Habs PK gets its first test. Here is our first look to a key element to this series.

- Too many hard Sens point shots are getting through towards the goal on this PP. Bullets dodged, but that can't last forever.

- Carey Price is into it. Looks like he feels he's got something to prove.

- Sens definitely taking momentum since that man advantage. Price keeping them at bay.

- Desharnais and Bourque fighting the puck, Pacioretty doing his best to make up for their missteps. That line not clicking so far.

- Can't say Habs aren't doing what they can to help Price, shotblocks are 12-2 Habs so far.

- Karlsson, great rush and Turris with shot/pass back to Karlsson, redeflect through Price's legs. Fine goal, aided by sluggish hustle by Plekanec line to defend the zone.

- Pacioretty is flying - shot off the wing produces one of those Anderson rebounds, and Bourque again fighting the puck, misses the open net.

- Habs started strong in the first, Sens regained footing from a powerplay, and Karlsson makes his impact right away. The keys to winning the series for the Sens were very strong the opening 20 minutes - if this continues, it's bad news for the Habs.




Second Period:


- Chris Neil, meet P.K. Subban. Crowd is charged after that mammoth hit. So are the Habs.

- And Habs get their first powerplay. Another key to the series gets its first look.

- Faceoff tossings are getting ridiculous.

- No goals scored, but pretty good chances generated. Let's see if this generates the same momentum for the Habs in this period that it did for the Sens in the first.

- Linesman Derek Amell on a serious power trip in the faceoff circle. Habs centres mystified and obviously frustrated by the relentless tossings.

- So many Habs chances here, Anderson looks unbeatable. Oy.

- 13-3 SOG so far in the 2nd, but Anderson is being Anderson. Habs to the powerplay.

- Jesus. Craig Anderson.

- Sensational save by Anderson on Bourque. Bourque's stick blade and the puck have been enemies tonight. One of these times he's going to follow through and score. It's gotta happen.

- White to the box. Goodbye mo'?

- Prust with an amazing PK shift. Habs might come out of this with mo in tact.

- Bourque! Atta boy. He delivers, and Anderson is finally solved.

- Eller is out, oh my god. Blood is gushing.

- Stretcher out. Habs bench completely infuriated by that head shot. Crowd booing the reply of the Gryba hit, now silent as attention turns to Eller's condition.

- Budaj sparring with Sens bench. This game taking very ugly turn.

- Needless to say the loss of Eller over any extended period of time is a big blow to Habs playoff fortunes.

- Sweet, sweet pass Plekanec to Gallagher. Unstoppable. Habs PP continues.

- Guess which lineman blew that obvious delay of game play by the Sens? One guess.

- Huge 5-on-3 opportunity for Habs here. Decisive moment in this game.

- SOG in the 2nd were an incredible 27-7, 41-19 through 40 minutes. That the score is only 2-1 is a miracle. No way the Sens should even be in this game, but they very much are.


Third Period:


- History was made tonight. The 27 shots by Habs in the 2nd period is an NHL playoff record.

- Subban a shade under 21 minutes through first two period. Leads all skaters.

- Early report Eller with broken nose and concussion. In the hospital. Very bad news.

- More reports say Eller has lost some teeth.

- Silfverberg has mostly been contained tonight but for how long??

- Ugh. That long. Silfverberg shoots, Price whiffs. Game tied. That 5-on-3 looming large.

- Habs in disarray in their zone, too many turnovers by Habs Gorges/Diaz, and Alfredsson with a wicked point shot off the crossbar. Sens take the lead, Bell Centre goes very, very quiet.

- Four-on-four has opened this game up a bit, which is good for the Habs.

- Diaz, whose pass set up the devastating hit on Eller, has been tentative with puck control and forward passing all night. One of his worst games in a long time.

- Desharnais simply not big enough to maintain puck control in the battles along the board - it's resulting in turnovers and killing zone possession.

- Shot on Price big rebound is redeflected back and in. Sens lead by two.

- Tough break goal, but you just know there'll be plenty of loud voiced of discontent directed at Price if this ends in a loss.

- 50th shot on Anderson. And we're going to lose.

- 4th goal took all the wind out of the Habs' sails. They collectively know this one is done.

- Rough night reflection, Gorges and Diaz collective -5. Ouch.

- Lost count number of puck missteps made by Diaz at the line tonight. It's been way, way too many unforced errors.

- Habs can't knock themselves for the loss, 50+ shots on Anderson is about all you can ask. Habs had a great chance to create separation with the 5-on-3 but couldn't score, and the Sens escaped the second just a goal down. Same old formula that's helped them win this season. Anderson was spectacular, Price wasn't. That was the other huge factor.

On to game two, the pressure squarely on the Habs shoulders, and especially Carey Price, who's got to find a way of playing mistake-free for 40 minutes.


Pregame Pre-series Game Preview!!

Okay, so this is being posted wayyyyyyy too late. Your Habs Game writer has been struck down by Flu-zilla the past week, and today was the first day I was able to actually sit upright (and at that, in a slightly slumped-over position). HOWEVER, WE MUST FORGE ON, THE QUEST MUST CONTINUE.

Anyway, poor me. Saddled on the couch, with little choice but to be subjected to the inane coverage of Bob Cole and the entirely useless CBC. That a million of my taxpayer dollars are spent paying the salary of loudmouth troglodytes like Don Cherry is more than I can handle.

Okay, we're getting off topic. THE SERIES. Ottawa Senators and our beloved Montreal Canadiens, meeting for the first time ever (unless you want to be anal and count the epic 1908 showdown between the Montreal Wanderers and the Ottawa Victorias ... yeah, I didn't think so).

So far the "expert" analysis of this series is pretty split. Just about everyone thinks it'll be a long series, but the opinion is pretty evenly divided between who'll actually win the damn thing. I more or less happen to agree with the experts - this series will be evenly fought, but the ultimate outcome, I believe, will be decided by specialty unit success.

I've broken the preview down by analysing offense, defense and goaltending:

Offense:

These teams have very differing offenses. The Habs rely mainly on speed and skill, their production is very evenly distributed amongst their top three lines. The Sens, by contrast, feature more of a bump-and-grind offense, not particularly productive, but one that seeks to wear the opposition down. The Sens play their games close in hopes of beating their tiring opposition in the 3rd period.

Goal scoring is not a strength for the Senators. Not nearly. Missing their top forward Jason Spezza for the season, the Sens averaged just 2.3 goals per game, 4th worst in the League. By contrast, the Habs, who feature three evenly productive scoring lines, scored 3.04 goals per game, 4th best in the League. So right off the top, we can see who's got a keen advantage in this department.


Drilling down a little, the Sens rank better 5-on-5, 15th overall, the Habs 6th. The Habs 53% fenwick is a bit better than the Sens' 52%.  Even the PDO numbers, which the Habs were ranking far too high earlier in the season, came back to earth to near 1.0 (1.006), while the Sens' PDO stat indicated their final finish in the Eastern Conference was reflective their position and shot quality (1.002).

So goal production, definite edge to the Habs, possession and shot qualities were roughly even. What about that powerplay? The Habs man advantage ranked a strong 20.7% during the season, which was good enough for the League 5th, although their powerplay visibly lagged the final three weeks of the season. The Sens trail far behind at 15.9% - their production was far more reliant on 5-on-5 play.

Keys to the series: The Habs likely win the series if their powerplay is productive, the Sens likely win the series if they can keep the Habs man advantage off the board, while potting a few on their powerplay against a mediocre Habs penalty killing unit.


Defense:

Team defense is unquestionably the Senators' key strength heading into the series - surrendering a measly 2.08 goals per game, Ottawa was only just behind the Hawks' 2.02 GAA. The Habs, meanwhile, weren't awful defensively at 2.58 goals per game, but their overall ranking was mediocre - 14th overall.

The big news of course, is the miraculous return of Ottawa's star defenseman Erik Karlsson, whose season was seemingly lost just three months ago by an horrific tendon injury. I've seen Karlsson play since his return, and while he's expectedly not quite his former self, he's still very good, bolstering the Sens transition game, which struggled during Karlsson's absence. The rest of Ottawa's defense has a nice blend of vets and youngsters, ranging from stay at home specialists Matt Methot and Chris Philips, to rookie Jared Cowen, who's done a nice job eating up minutes.

The Habs, meanwhile, are still struggling to overcome the loss of the hard hitting Alexei Emelin, who up until his season-ending knee injury, was leading the League in hits. The most profound impact seems to be on the Habs penalty killing unit, which went into a tailspin almost the minute went down for the season. During the last week of the regular season, it appeared that coach Michel Therrien was making some decent progress in helping to stabilize that unit, but it's still not nearly as good as it needs to be to make this team truly dangerous in the post-season.

Keys to the series: The Habs are more likely to win if their penalty killing unit returns to form, the Sens are more likely to win if Karlsson has the excellent series most everyone is expecting.

Goaltending:

This one is interesting. Here we have Carey Price, the star stud who many consider to be the best overall goaltender in hockey, and here we have Craig Anderson, who until his mid-season injury, was probably on the road to a 2013 Vezina trophy.  So you know both of these guys have the capability of knocking out the lights - the question is, who will? Or who won't?

Price, and many Habs fans can tell you, struggled the last quarter of the season, the low point being a dismal start against the Leafs when Price was beaten by three softies on four shots. However, since that time Price, while sometimes appearing shaky, has had progressively improved performances leading up to the end of the year. Without question, the team's fortunes rely heavily on Price's performance - if he's shaky, the Habs probably don't stand much of a chance.

Anderson, as we mentioned, had an outstanding start to the year before going down to a lengthy injury. Since his return, he's looked awfully strong, his save percentage very comparable to his pre-injury numbers. Anderson also has a decent playoff record, he was unquestionably the star for Ottawa in their series loss to the overmatched New York Rangers. If he can repeat that performance against the Canadiens, Ottawa will be tough to beat.

Keys to the series: If Price lives up to ability, the Habs are likely to win. If Anderson lives up to ability, the Sens have a greater chance of winning (note the difference).


Final Series Prediction:

I tweeted my series picks before the playoffs started, and I haven't changed my opinion. I think the Sens will win this series in 6 games because of the Habs struggles with their penalty kill, and because at the end of the day, I think Anderson will perform well enough to give his team the necessary edge to win close games. I'll be very shocked if most of the final results aren't one goal differences.


Thank You, Thank You, Thank You


So this humble little blog, for which I spend nothing on (except time), generates zero revenue (that's fine), and has virtually no promotion. Still, we set an all-time traffic record for the month of April with more than 7,000 visits. So thanks to all those stopping by. It's nice to know it's more than just Mom who's reading this. Unless that was you who visited 7,000 times, Mom. Because if it was, we gotta talk.

Anyway, point being, if there's a readership, I'll get plugging along with these game blogs. Hopefully there's more than 20 left to do before this year is done, eh?


Division Champions!

From very, very last place in the East, to first place in their own Division, in roughly a 13 month span. Congratulations to the boys for one of the most impressive turnaround seasons I've seen by this franchise (and I've seen quite a few).

So it's the Senators! And it's Thursday night for game one, which is excellent news for the Canadiens.

I'll be posting a preview shortly. In the meantime, let's all just savor finishing in first place. Feels great, don't it?

1 comment:

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