Monday, 5 May 2014

Game Three - EC Semi Finals: Bruins vs. Habs


A few thoughts with respect to the Habs big game three win over the Bruins, 4-2.

- P.K. Subban. 11 points in the post-season, putting him 3rd overall in the League. Keep in mind, the Habs have played fewer games than anyone amongst teams still competing. Only Shea Weber is averaging higher PPG totals in these playoffs. I'm sure the Habs are glowing over his remarkable production, although this is going to cost the franchise dearly when it comes to negotiating a long term deal. During the regular season, the numbers being tossed around were in the $7M per range. Now they're easily at, or in excess of $8M per.

Marc Bergevin gets credit for the things he does right, but he could have (as yours truly was then pleading) signed Subban up long term two years ago for probably half of what it's going to end up costing this summer.

- So that's bad Bergevin. Good Bergevin continues to be the remarkable additions he oversaw at this year's trade deadline. Mike Weaver had yet another outstanding performance last night, doing a remarkable job not only with shot blocks, but in winning battles for pucks and clearing the zone. Saddled next to Doug Murray, Weaver was essentially given the arduous task of having to cover the Bruins forwards, and Murray's inept play all at once (more on Murray below).

- Dale Weise, whose childhood dream came true this season when he was traded to the team he idolized as a kid, continues to not only make excellent grinding contributions to the 4th line, but he's scoring critical goals. Last night he potted his second game-winning goal of the post-season, which is kind of remarkable. For those of us who've had the privileged of meeting him in person, I can say he's an outstanding individual, which makes his success all the more wonderful.

- Habs really adjusted well from Saturday's defeat. That extra day of rest, I suspect, was invaluable in helping this team to address its deficiencies (mainly defensive), and to adjust its approach to combating the Bruins' greatest strengths at even strength, mainly their ability to roughshod the Habs on the transition. The Canadiens played a much more aggressive neutral ice game, intensifying their forecheck, and driving the puck deep with each opportunity. This aggressive strategy provided the Habs defense with a bit more time to feed the puck forward, which resulted in a much crisper and faster transition through the neutral zone. The Bruins, who looked slow (meek even?) simply had no answer to the adjustments.

- Also, kudos to many of the Habs forwards who were visibly more focused on chugging back to their zone to cover the passing lanes. The Bruins were well contained when carrying the puck into the Canadiens' zone.

- Okay. Doug Murray. Let's get this over with. He's been getting a lot of positive reviews this morning, which is driving me a little bit batty. Yes, he was able to plant a couple of thumping bodychecks on Bruins forwards last night. Nonetheless, his skating, passing, positional play and judgmental abilities were absolutely atrocious. Aside from his unforced icings (I counted at least three), Murray was a possession black hole, finishing the night with a horrifying sub 27% Corsi. While the oblivious rave, the reality is the Habs won last night not because of Murray's presence, but in spite of it. Hopefully, hopefully, hopefully - common sense will settle in with Therrien, and we will never seen Murray's name in the Habs lineup for the rest of the playoffs.

- Okay. Therrien. I really questioned his strategy when at the last possible minute, he did a switcheroo with Thomas Vanek, yanking him from the Desharnais line, and placing him next to Plekanec. Given the Habs had the last change, and that Claude Julien was pulling a real matching number on the Canadiens the first two games, sending out Chara to face the Desharnais line, the Vanek juggle made little sense. But, it paid off. First, it almost certainly took Julien and the Bruins by surprise - I'm sure like the rest of us, they assumed that the Habs would be pushing the top line hard without Chara on the ice. Secondly, it put Julien in a strategic quandary - does he send out his best defenders to contain Desharnais and Pacioretty, or does he send them out against Plekanec and Vanek. Julien ultimately settled on the former. Net result? The Habs scored the game's first goal, a beauty feed Vanek to a wide open Plekanec. The Bruins defenders on the ice during that goal? Their 3rd pairing - Torey Krug and Kevan Miller.

- Mind games: You knew the Bruins were feeling nervous about game three when some of their players started trash talking Monday afternoon - most notably Krug's assertion that the Bruins had figured out Carey Price. You know a team is in trouble when it resorts to schoolyard tactics - Habs fans ought know this well when last year, Brandon Prust trash talked the Ottawa Senators and their head coach Paul MacLean, referring to MacLean as a fat walrus.  When Prust made that statement, the Sens knew they had the Habs right where they wanted them. The Canadiens were, of course, easily swept aside by Ottawa. So while the Bruins did tidy up their game last night with respect to staying out of the box (although the two officials, Tim Peel and Chris Rooney were basically letting everything go), they were still a highly undisciplined team heading into the game with how they spoke to the media.

- Game Four: It'll be a doozy. The Bruins know they can't go back to Boston down 3-1 in the series, so they will come out with maximum effort. It'll be a fast, bruising night - a last man standing affair. The Habs control their own destiny. They can take a stranglehold on this series, and make a huge step towards a championship appearance this spring. But it won't be easy. The most important win is the toughest win. Thursday, hurry up. We can't wait.


- Okay. Habs need really to beat Rask one more time. That'll do it. Otherwise, I'm nervous. Very, very nervous. Habs must play an aggressive, intense final 20 minutes to salt this game away.

- Hoo boy. Bruins come out full guns blazing. They want the early goal. This is scary stuff.

- Habs need momentum changer. Something to put fire into their engines. Anything.

- Really, really intense Bruins zone forecheck. Habs just trying to stay afloat. It's difficult to watch.

- Bell Centre quietly nervous right now. 

- Habs getting a little mojo going here. Let's hope it calms the nervous waters.

- Canadiens deer in the headlights in their zone - lots of fumbled puck, it was though they're just waiting for the Bruins to score.

- Murray looks barely capable of playing rec league hockey. He must be yanked from this game. The Habs can't take the chance.

- Habs look much better this 3rd period than they did Saturday afternoon. Still a very, very long way to go.

- Weaver with perhaps his best game ever as a Hab tonight. A shot blocking machine.

- Fine period so far by the Habs, all things considered, but too many deep zone faceoffs - Canadiens playing with fire.

- Vanek. All iron. Hoo boy I hope that doesn't haunt us.

- Amother deflection?? Hoo boy. Iginla makes it a one goal game.

- One minute left. Nothing on our seats remaining but the edges.

- Habs win draw, Eller ices it into the empty net. We cheer. We breathe. The Habs win. And take a huge step towards winning this series. 


- Vanek is back. That's a relief.

- Murray shift. Hold your breath.

- Murray can't skate fast enough to pick up loose pucks in the corner. Bruins get a scoring check as a result.

- Cautious start - both sides, to this period. 

- Halfway mark, game opens up with both teams throwing offensive jabs, Bruins the bulk of high percentage chances, but Price is stellar.

- Pacioretty's stick utterly destroyed by a slash right in front of Tim Peel. Easy, easy call. So what do you think Peel does? Nothing of course.

- Bruins seem convinced that just throwing shots at Price will generate goals. Guys, it's not gonna happen. Some respect, for goodness sake.

- Eller line had chance to change, but stayed on. Habs get pinned in their zone. Not smart. Habs must change quickly - shifts not longer than one minute.

- Weise!! Where was the Bruins defense?? 3-0.

- Habs sitting on this a bit - never a promising sign. One can never be paranoid enough about any lead against this Boston team.

- There we go. Sitting on leads generates deep zone faceoffs, won by the Bruins - Bergeron who redeflects yet another point shot past Price. 3-1.

- Well, a pretty good period for Habs fans. Matching the Bruins in the frame is usually a mission accomplished. The end of the period, though, was worrying - as the Habs began to sit on that 3 goal lead. Now it's two. And now the Bruins get to play *their* period - the 3rd. Hold on folks, this is the series, right here.


- If you'd been following us on Twitter @habsgameblog, you'd know already that Moen and Murray are in, Prust and Bouillon are out.

- Was holding on to that sliver of hope that Therrien might have a last minute common-sense change of mind, and would keep Murray out of the lineup. Well ... it was a sliver, I guess.

- Man, this place. This feels like Montreal's game tonight. My gut is totally screaming it.

- Crazy energy start for Habs, Bourque I think hit the post off a bomb pass by Subban. Habs system so far very similar to Tampa series.

- Chara took a shot off his hand and is now in the dressing room. Wow. Maybe. We'll see

- Habs very aggressive trying to pin the Bruins in their zone. Risky strategy, but it's paying off so far.

- Vanek has been taken off the Desharnais line, now on the wing with Plekanec. Gallagher now with DD.

- Chara returns to the bench.

- Murray is mess. Habs taking icings like crazy and Bruins are zeroing in for the kill.

- Doug Murray had an absolute nightmare shift - so bad, so mistake prone, so slow, that Therrien might have to run with 5 defenseman the rest of the night. It was that bad.

- Still don't understand yanking Vanek off the top line. Therrien has last change, he can out out Desharnais when Chara isn't on. Why the shuffle before even trying?? Makes no sense.

- Bruins slowly wrestling away control of this game. 

- Wow. What a pass by Vanek to a wide open Plekanec for empty netter.  Bournival with the original strong forecheck to help create that goal. 1-0.

- Absurd roughing call on Subban for making a clean open ice hit. Habs just got Tim Peeled.

- Incredible. Eller hits PK coming out of the box and Subban scores an astounding goal on the break. Bell Centre completely explodes. 2-0. Sweet karma against Tim Peel.


Well, here it is. Game three. It's a biggie. The past 15 series between these two rivals, the team that has won game three has won the series 14 times. So with that in mind, here are some game day preview thoughts:

- Habs will need to spread their offensive production out more. With the last change at hand, Therrien will have a distinct advantage in avoiding Julien's tenacious line matching which has had huge payoffs in the series, most notably the third period of Game Two. With the "excuse" of the line change removed, there will be pressure on the likes of the Desharnais line to finally start to put goals in the net.

- Speaking of, Max Pacioretty has been getting a lot of flack for his lack of production the first two games of the series, a good portion of which I think is fairly warranted. His effort level just hasn't quite been there. In Max's defense, however, Claude Julien really leveraged the luxury of last change at home, putting out Zdeno Chara practically every time Pacioretty touched the sheet. Tonight, Therrien will have the luxury of avoiding, or at least, somewhat nullifying the Chara/Pacioretty matchup. The net result may be increased offensive production from the Desharnais/Pacioretty/Vanek line. We'll see.

- Habs specialty units have been very good, both the powerplay and penalty kill units have been elevated. The man advantage helped the Canadiens to win game one, and very nearly game two. While the Habs have held a distinct edge with these units, they're still getting mauled 5v5, which is Boston's big strength. If the Canadiens aren't able to figure a way of producing goals at even strength, or a way of more effectively containing the Bruins, a series win will be extremely difficult.

- It now appears all but certain that Doug Murray will be inserted into the lineup in favor of Frankie Bouillon, which I think is big mistake. The rationale for using Murray appears to be to help slow the Bruins' rush though the neutral zone, which has been creating some dazzling scoring opportunities. The thinking goes, Murray will help the Habs defense to maintain defense of their line while the forwards focus on taking every opportunity to force the puck deep into the Boston zone. This means we should expect the Habs to deploy and even greater dump-and-chase strategy. It's a very risky strategy, fraught with far more downsides than upsides. If it works, the Habs will have a significant advantage tonight. But if it doesn't - the Bruins' offense could have a field day.

- Ryan White appears to be "in" for tonight's game, in place of the struggling Brandon Prust. White has been working Habs practices doggedly the past few weeks. At Brossard, he's almost always the last guy off the practice ice, sometimes staying nearly an hour after everyone else has gone to the dressing room. White's job tonight will be mainly physical, he'll need to do what Prust has so far been unable - creating some semblance of game energy, and giving the Bruins headaches in their own zone maintaining puck possession.

- Goaltending hasn't been a differing issue in the series. It's been very good at both ends of the rink. The Bruins spent a good day of Monday trying to get into Carey Price's head with the whole "he can be beat high" nonsense. Price handled the mind games as you'd expect he would - with ease and confidence.

Puck drops at 7:10 EST. The Bell Centre is going to be insane. We'll soon see if the Habs fan feed off the incredible home turf atmosphere.


As usual, it's all very hush-hush in Montreal about tonight's game. Both teams practiced this morning, and, as usual, both coaches are being coy about who will (or will not) be starting tonight. So here's what we know:

- Rene Bourque will be starting. This is the only definitive lineup announcement made by Therrien. Bourque missed yesterday's practice due to flu, but is (apparently) well enough to play.
- Habs practice lines gave us a hint about what to expect as the starting lineup. With Bourque confirmed in, it appears that Ryan White will get a start in place of Brandon Prust, who we are pretty sure is playing injured. Also not expected to play tonight will be Travis Moen.


So we'll be posting updates on the Habs all day long, leading up to our Game Three preview.

UPDATE #1: HABS PRACTICE!!! OH NOOOOOOO .... Rene Bourque did not practice this morning, and word out is it's because he couldn't due to the flu. OY. The fact that yours truly is freaking out about Bourque possibly not being part of the next lineup is astounding. RENE COME BACK WE NEED YOU.

- Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. The Habs defensive pairings at practice right now. Oh dear, oh dear ...

1: Markov/Emelin
2: Gorges/Subban
3: Weaver/ .... Murray NOOOOOOO NO NO NO NO MICHEL NO NO NO.

Ugh. Well, this has not been a good start to the week.

UPDATE #2: Habs worked a lot this morning on zone entry drills, which is all fine and good. However, the biggest problem for this team hasn't been zone entries, it's been zone exits. Habs forwards haven't been doing a very good job either in coming back cover the Bruins' passing lanes, and haven't been doing their defense many favors positioning themselves to receive the puck to clear the defensive zone.

Also, this team's passing accuracy, offensive and defensive, has declined significantly compared to the Tampa series. It's indicative of the Bruins' tenacious forecheck which has created a ton of neutral zone turnovers. One possible solution to the forecheck would be for the defense to consider carrying the puck (when the opportunity presents itself) out of the defensive zone, thereby giving the forwards more space and time to find open passing lanes.

One other noticeable defect - the Habs were having a jolly old time with their transition by sending one forward deep off the rush (an example would be Bourque's stunning early Game 3 goal vs. Tampa). So far the Habs have been very reluctant to send a speedy forward more aggressively towards the Boston end off transition, in fear of the Bruins' masterful checking abilities, I suppose.

But you don't play with fear. Not in the Stanley Cup post-season. You play your strengths. You thrive off them, or you die off them. But you play them.

UPDATE #3: Claude Julien IS THE WORST. Just wanted to say that. Feels good.

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