Monday, 13 April 2015

Game One - EC Quarter Final: Sens vs. Habs


- If the Sens do lose tonight (or maybe even if they win) will Hammond get shelved for game two? 

- Emelin with panicked positioning, forcing Price to do some acrobatics to keep Lazar from tying the game. Therrien has Emelin paired with Markov, with Subban gone, he's left with little room to manoeuvre.

- So far Habs aren't sitting on this lead, which is a very good thing. Liking their agressive drive towards Hammond which is creating significant traffic around the Sens slot.

- Habs playoff performers really showing up tonight. Lars Eller, Brandon Prust, and yes, Brian Floyd, have individually been excellent.

- Officials steadfastly refusing to penalize Ottawa for anything. Even actual penalties. It's bizarre.

- Seems like every Emelin shift, his partner is bailing him out at least one time. Real defensive black hole there.

- Habs powerplay? It's actually happening.

- Habs incredibly unlucky not to score on the powerplay. The gods seem intent on having this game go to overtime? If the Habs had scored, it's lights out.

- Habs powerplay looked excellent, I must say. Possession was very calm and contained, setups were well executed, Hammond bailed out by two large horseshoes. We're on the homestretch. 4 minutes left.

- What a finish. Crazy.

- The Habs hang on. What a game. What a gutsy, gutsy win for a team missing its two best position players. The Canadiens' 4th line, which I admittedly maligned in my preview, were the big stars tonight. Torry Mitchel, Brandon Prust, and most of all, Brian Flynn, who scored three points, something he's never done in his NHL career, were outstanding.

The blood is bad, very bad between these two teams. Game two - we can't hardly wait. In the meantime - advantage Habs.


- Setting aside the own goal, Markov looks like he's in lala land. Lots of misplays and poor positioning. Very weird.

- DSP is hurting his line. He can't stick handle, in addition to skating like he's got 10 pound weights on each foot. Habs really should consider demoting him, and quick.

- Torrey Mitchell. Who woulda thought? Hammond looked weak. Tie game.

- Woah. Plekanec 15 seconds later. Through Hammonds legs. Karlsson with the misplay. 2-1. What a turn of events.

- Eller now takes a stupid high stick on Zibanejad to kill the momentum.

- Oh wow. Subban gets tossed for a slash on Stone. Game may have been lost right here.

- Looked at the replay. Stone went down like he was shot. It was a bad slash but not at a game misconduct level. Officials making their mark.  

- Turris converts. A real shame given how dreadful the Subban ejection was. If this Sens win this, they'll be talking about this for months.

- Eller to the rescue shorthanded!! Hammond again not looking good. 3-2.

- And Stone returns to the bench looking pretty sprite for a guy rolling around as though he was shot. What a shocker. The fakery. What a disgrace. 

- Sens tie. Zibanejad off a sizeable Price rebound. Off a powerplay the Sens should not have. Tie game.

- Gotta admit it, Habs 4th line having a whale of a game. Doing an excellent job with aggressive checking, creating more than a few scoring opportunities. If the Desharnais line could demonstrate similar spirit, Habs might have a fighting chance.

- And there we have it. Another 4th line goal, and Flynn, having the game of his life, muscles one past Hammond. Habs take the lead for he third time in the period. Hammond looking very, very vulnerable.

- What a bonkers period. The Sens Mark Stone suckers the officials into booting Subban from the game, the Habs score shorthanded, the Sens abysmal powerplay somehow scores two on the man advantage, 36 shots registered on goal, Karlsson looks abysmal, and Andrew Hammond came crashing back to earth, surrendering four goals in less than 20 minutes. Even with a one goal lead, the Habs face a mighty hill to climb in the third period, missing their best player. Can the Canadiens fight a way of gutting this out to a victory? It's going to be awfully close.


- As expected physical start to the game, DSP really throwing his weight around first shift.

- Therrien matching Plekanec line against the Turris line. As expected.

- Therrien favouring Mitchell 4th line matched against Pageau 3rd line.

- Great first shifts by Eller and Prust. Price looking focused (as expected).

- Referee Dave Jackson makes an uber-soft hook call on De la Rose for a phantom hook on Karlsson. Bad call.

- Looks like Prust has brought his playoff form to the game tonight.

- Sens first powerplay strongly resembling a tire fire. When they said it was struggling, they weren't kidding.

- Mitchell is a defensive mess. Habs 4th line in general really struggling trying to handle the Sens speed and skill. 

- First half of 1st period complete, pretty typical Habs game so far. Slow start, not much in the way of offensive chances, getting badly outpossesed.

- Sens really dominating centre ice. That bodes well for them if the rest of this series continues this way.

- DSP may be resigned to not scoring, so he's bringing the body big time so far. Not sure if that's going to benefit the first line very much, however.

- Andre Markov. Brain collapse. Scores into his own net. Bizarre first goal of the series. Bell Centre is stunned. Not the first time this year Markov has done something perplexing that's cost his team a goal. 1-0.

- Kind of sad the Habs have only tested Hammond twice in this period, and it was by the 4th line both times.

Borowiecki/Gryba pairing is a mess, specifically defensive zone coverage. Habs really, really need to exploit this.

- Not a banner period for Montreal. Possession was awful, DSP, while hitting some bodies, doesn't seem capable of making actual offensive contributions, and the Sens benefit from an own goal. Habs fans should be concerned. Very concerned.


As we neared the end of the regular season, there were more than a few Habs fans checking the out of town scoreboards to gauge how the Eastern Conference standings were going to play out. That's the luxury of cheering for a first place team. Your evenings are more spent watching others than actually cheering for your team.

Towards the end, there were three candidates left to choose from, the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators. It's no secret that most Habs fans would have gladly chosen to face either of the first two in the first round, and reluctantly taken the later Senators, if only because Ottawa had given the Canadiens fits during the regular season, not to mention they'd also been the hottest second-half team in the League.

Oh well. The Senators it is, then. You can't have it all. In advance of what should be a closely fought semi-finals, here's the Habs Game Blog series breakdown:


The Canadiens, right off the mark, find themselves at a distinct disadvantage because they won't be starting game one with their leading scorer, Max Pacioretty, in the lineup due to concussion (unconfirmed, but .. yeah .. it's concussion). With Pacioretty unable to play, the Senators will pose a far greater danger of dominating this series offensively not only because of their top line scoring advantage, but the bottom six, at least on paper, appears to favour the nation's captial.

The Habs will have their work cut out containing Ottawa's top two lines, starting with the Kyle Turris, Mark Stone and and Clarke Macarthur trio, with particular deference to Stone, who's been sniping it up this season posting a near 17% shoot percentage, one of the best in the League. The Sens second scoring unit, Mika Zibanejad, Bobby Ryan and Milan Michalek doesn't have the same punch as the Turris line, but it does offer decent forechecking which could give the Habs defense some fits as the series progresses.

While I do think the first two lines are essentially a washout (with Pacioretty in the lineup), the real difference maker could be the Sens 3rd and 4th lines, both of which bring significant checking assets to the table that could help Ottawa dominate the neutral zone, which is often key to playoff victories. In particular, Ottawa's 4th line of David Legwand, Mike Hoffman and Alex Chiasson, who are collectively eons ahead of the Habs current 4th line comprised of Torry Mitchell, Brandon Prust and Brian Flynn. Mitchell and Flynn were deadline pickups by Marc Bergevin, designed, we assumed, to give the Habs more "grit". It is now as it was then, a regrettable decision in this writer's opinion, in large part because both Mitchell and Flynn are at best, marginal NHL 4th liners, are are by no means, an upgrade of players the Habs already have in their system, such as Christian Thomas, Sven Andrighetto or for that matter, Michael Bournival.

Keys for the Habs will be, of course, getting Max Pacioretty back into the lineup as quickly as possible, and hoping that Lars Eller will post his usual strong playoff performances, while getting some kind of actual scoring production out of the underwhelming deadline acquisition Devante Smith-Pelly. Failing that, this Habs team will likely struggle to put pucks on the net, which means they'll need to rely heavily on team defense and goaltending.

Keys for the Sens; dominating the neutral zone, applying constant pressure on vulnerable defensemen like Alexei Emelin and Tom Gilbert, making fast transitions from the defensive zone, and finding a way of beating Carey Price more than twice a game.

Series Advantage: Senators


Here's where things get a bit more interesting. Both teams feature stud star defensemen, Ottawa with former Norris trophy winner Erik Karlsson, and the Habs with former Norris trophy winner P.K. Subban. Each bring to the table the capacity to single-handedly affect the final outcome of games, each with outstanding puck control and game presence, and each with significant offensive punch. Karlsson led the Senators in point scoring, which is an impressive accomplishment for any defenseman (although reflective that Ottawa didn't have any superstar offensive production this year), while Subban racked up career totals, putting up 60 points, 8 fewer than Karlsson's total.

Beyond the star defenders, the Sens have two strong sets with Karlsson playing next to Marc Methot, while Patrick Wiercioch and Cody Ceci comprise the 2nd unit. It's when you move down to the third unit of Mark Borowiecki and Eric Gryba that the Sens really start to look thin, which means Habs coach Michel Therrien would be very wise to use his last change advantage to full effect. The Canadiens should be sending out their top line of Thomas Plekanec, Alek Galchenyuk and Brenden Gallagher against the Borowiecki/Gryba pair at every opportunity.

The Habs defense is unquestionably stronger and more versatile, especially with the trade deadline acquisition of Jeff Petry, who's been everything and more that the Habs could have hoped for. Even though Petry is being saddled on the 2nd unit with Alexei Emelin, the Canadiens will still ice three defensive units that on their own, easily trump Ottawa's, both in skill, defensive prowess, and mobility (yes, even with Emelin).

Keys for the Habs defensively: containment of the Sens top two scoring lines, the ability to adjust to Ottawa's strong forechecking system, the willingness to become more involved in offensive transitions, making accurate zone transition passes from tape to tape (not from tape to boards), and nullifying the Karlsson effect, which means being able to be responsible in anticipating the play, especially when Karlsson carries the puck from his zone.

Keys for the Sens defensively; simply hanging in there - finding a way of protecting their net (putting bodies in front of shots), and being able to keep up to the Habs perceived speed advantage.

Series Advantage: Canadiens


This could be interesting, bordering on fascinating. The series will feature this years Vezina trophy winner (and possibly Hart as well) in Carey Price, against one of the great out-of-nowhere stories of the season in Andrew Hammond. In case you've been busy orbiting the moon the past few months, Hammond, who was toiling in minor league oblivion, was called up for emergency services to the big team, and has managed to string together a remarkable, and some would say, improbable record of excellence. The numbers are pretty incredible. 20 wins in 24 starts. A 1.79 GAA. A .941 SV%. Over the course of an actual full season, Hammond would be in the running, if not outright lead, for goaltender and player of the year.

Of course, there's one small dent in the armor to consider. Hammond has played just 24 games, which, while a decent sample size, is most certainly not enough to draw firm conclusions that he's the real deal, but instead, is just a minor leaguer riding an incredible hot streak.

Like all hot streaks, there comes the inevitable cool down period - the question is, will it happen to Hammond, and if so, when?

If Hammond hits reality this week, then don't be surprised if a quick hook is used to switch in Craig Anderson, who up until the middle of this season, was without question the Sens number one netminder. If Anderson is brought in, how he plays will be a huge question mark, since he hasn't been getting regular starts since his mid-season injury.

Carey Price? We all know about Price and the remarkable season he's had. The formula for Price is simple - continue his outstanding play into the post-season, and maybe, just maybe, he could help push the Habs not only past the Senators, but deep into the 2015 playoffs.

Series Advantage: Canadiens

So there you have it. But what about the series itself? I have to admit, I've struggled with determining a winner. The Senators, with a clear advantage at offense, might just have enough in their tank to outpace the Habs in a seven game series. But NHL playoff series aren't only won with scoring, they're mainly won by defense and goaltending. So with bias acknowledged, I'm going to pick the Habs to win over the Sens in six games.

But, and it's a biggie but ... I wouldn't be overtly surprised if Ottawa wins, with surprising ease, if the Canadiens can't get their offensive house in order, and if, for whatever reason, Carey Price isn't able to muster up more than an average performance.


Happy Playoffs Eve! Have you peeked under the tree yet? If you have, you should stop being so damn lazy and get that thing out of the house. December was FOUR MONTHS AGO. Sheesh.

So we've got a series preview coming your way soon, analyzing the Habs and Sens, of course. Plus we'll toss in some take-it-to-the-bank predictions for all the other series. It's going to be an interesting first round.

Meanwhile ...

- Max Pacioretty's status still seems cloudy, which likely matches his though processes at the moment. The Habs approach to this injury has been nothing short of pathetic - everyone in the world knows Max has concussion, but they still refuse to acknowledge the obvious, tinted visor and all. Anyway, coach Therrien said he'd be surprised if Pacioretty started game one, while the team still hasn't given medical clearance.

Bottom line. Max won't play tomorrow because the Habs are counting on holding their own at the Bell Centre. If the Sens win game one, I'd be surprised if Max doesn't start Friday.

- Habs sold single seat tickets this morning for the series, and priced their blues (400 level, end zone) at a grotesque $160. After a bit of an outcry, the club knocked the tab down to $110. Still, that's an outrageous price level. This team already rakes in bajillions selling sweaters marked up 800%. Shame on you, Molson family.

More in a bit.


Hey, hey. Finally. Games that matter. We knew we'd reach this eventuality around December, given how well the Habs started out of the regular season gate, and now we've arrived! The 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs!

Check out that awesome Bell Centre collage above that was put up over the weekend. It's about 200 kajillion times better than this abomination:

Remember that? That was the actual painting presented by the Canadiens to Saku Koivu this season. Good lord. Hopefully that's the last time the Habs hire someone from Grade six art class to do anything artistic.

But we digress. It's the playoffs! For the first round, the Habs have drawn our old nemisis, the Ottawa Senators, who, in their 22 years of NHL existence have accomplished almost nothing. But don't tell that to their fans. Nope. Don't even go there. Because those Sens fans are totally convinced that THIS IS THE YEAR. Which is why so many of them are predicting an easy series win over the Canadiens.

Oh, Ottawa. You're just so adorable! You've got yourself the cutest little NHL team there! Aren't you special? Yes you are. Yes you ARE! 

Anyway, some Monday morning news:

-  Practice. Max Pacioretty! He's there in regular uniform. But ... wearing a tinted visor. Hmmm ... that's probably not a good thing. Here's a picture courtesy TSN's expert photographer, John Lu:

Yeah. That's definitely not good. UPDATE: Post-practice, Pacioretty denied the tinted visor had anything to do related to his injury, but that he wore it to "look cool". Yeah, right Max. We ain't buying it.

- Habs lines. Well, they didn't run any. Just skating drills and work on the powerplay. Looks like Therrien is trying to rotate Smith-Pelly into the first line powerplay which is ... uh ... interesting.

- Just to be fair, the Sens also held practice this morning, and they actually ran lines:

Line 1: MacArthur/Turris/Stone
Line 2: Michalek/Zibanejad/Ryan
Line 3: Condra/Pageau/Lazar
Line 4: Hoffman/Legwand/Chiasson


- Finally, the NHL announced who will (and conversely, won't) be officiating the playoffs. Tim Peel? OUT. Yeah, for reals. He didn't make the cut.

Yes, Habs fans. I know you're wondering. Chris Lee? In, I'm afraid. The world continues to work in mysterious ways.

More in a bit.

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