Sunday, 16 April 2017

Game 3 - ECQF: Habs vs. Rangers

Montreal 3, New York 1:


- The Rangers lineup is barely recognizable. Some serious shakeups made by Alain Vigneault:

Jimmy Vesey - Mike Zibanejad - Mats Zuccarello 
Rick Nash - Derek Stepan - Michael Grabner 
Chris Kreider - Keven Hayes - Jesper Fast 
J.T. Miller - Oscar Lindberg - Tanner Glass 

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi 
Marc Staal - Brendan Smith 
Brady Skjei - Kevin Klein

- So let's try to take this all in. Stefan and Vesey get bumped from the 1st line to the 2nd line, Zibanejad and Vesey from the 1st line to the 2nd line, Kreider from the 1st to the 3rd line, Jesper Fast from the 4th to the 3rd, Miller and Hayes from the 3rd to the 4th. And then on defence, Brendan Smith gets boosted from the 3rd to 2nd pairing, Nick Holden gets scratched, and Kevin Klein gets a start (on the 3rd pairing). Whew!

- Har har. Vigneault plays the same lines as he did game one, the warmups were just some shade thrown. But, Holden is out, and Klein is in. And Kreider is back to line 1.

- Gotta say, that was a pretty uninspiring pre game by MSG. Maybe that's part of the "can't win at home" issue?

- Looks like the Rangers actual number 1 line is on fire tonight - Kreider comes agonizingly close to snapping one home.  Plenty of speed forces Petry to make a goal saving hook. New York gets early powerplay. Here's Kreider's chance:

- Habs PK does the job, Carey Price again heavily involved with puck handling and clearances. He's the best goaltender in the League handling the puck, one of the big reasons why the Habs PK has been one of the League's best since Julien took over.

- Rangers absolutely storming early, not unlike the Habs for game 1. Canadiens simply trying to weather the storm. Really nothing else can be done.

- More excellent play by Tomas Plekanec, who after having a comparatively miserable regular season, is like a brand new player this series. Just had a great shift that might stunt the ferocious Rangers attack.

- Plekanec, Byron and Gallagher continue to play some unbelievable hockey. They've taken their game up 3 or 4 steps, if you want to quantify just how ridiculously dangerous their play has been in the playoffs. Julien trying to match the line, and it's paying off. Habs are slowly wrestling back momentum.

- Lundqvist not showing any of the shakes that we occasionally witnessed at the Bell Centre. If not for him, Canadiens would already have a scoreboard lead.

- One thing is certain, the Rangers 4th line towers in comparison to the Habs 4th, as they draw another Rangers powerplay. If New York wins this series, that domination will certainly be a key element.

- Rangers 2nd powerplay comes awfully close to scoring, they've made one adjustment, more bodies directly in front of Price, which the Habs defence needs to recognize immediately and clear. Secondly, Habs PK forwards need to drop back a little and help out with that traffic. Ott on the first unit didn't do a very good job.

- 2 minutes left in the period, Habs forwards get really aggressive with forecheck, especially in the neutral zone. Generates a couple of nice puck turnovers creating fast zone entires. Like to see more of that tonight. 

- No score after the 1st which is something the Canadiens will gladly take. After the Rangers came out hard (as expected), the Plekanec line put together a string of brilliant shifts that tiled the ice in Montreal's direction, and nullified the early New York momentum. Habs had much more control of the pace, which is ideal for a road game. It's going to be a tough game, but so far you'd have to be cautiously optimistic if you're cheering for the Canadiens.


- Habs CF 64.5% at even strength, so that's pretty huge first game on the road. Rangers probably not entirely pleased with how that first period played out:

- Boner play by the continuing-to-struggle Staal, who vacates the lane on a Habs zone entry, which rolls out the red carpet to Markov to wind up for a 25 foot slap shot on Lundqvist who makes another great save to keep his team in the game.

- Lundqvist with a big, if not slightly unsteady glove save on Torrey Mitchell, again from close distance. At this moment Lundqvist is the big story, but the Rangers soft defence off the Habs zone entires ought be considered. They'll need to tighten it up significantly, because eventually Hank will face something he can't stop.

- Habs 4th line still isn't great, but it's defiantly better with Mitchell in and Martinsen out. Also, Julien not taking any chances, mostly pairing that line's shifts with Markov-Weber. 

- Really sloppy coverage by the Rangers defence tonight. Their top pairing McDonagh-Giradi are fine, but as you drill down, cracks start to appear. Staal a real weak link.

- Jordie Benn is a difference maker. So happy to be wrong about the Pateryn trade (I thought it was a sideways deal). Doing an outstanding job shot blocking and guarding territory close to Price.

- J.T. Miller with the bonehead puck handle off the face-off, sends the Habs to the powerplay. 

- Lehkonen on the powerplay! A ridiculously great tic-tac-toe passing play Plekanec, Gallagher ... and Lehkonen who fires a puck that nobody, not even Lundqvist could save. 1-0 Habs.

- 15 minutes before the Lehkonen goal:

- Well-earned 2nd period lead for the Habs, who again were the more dominate and aggressive team in the period. Canadiens continue to be aided by great performances by their PK, while the (perceived) supporting cast has risen all the way to the top - Lehkonen, Gallagher, Plekanec with another sparkling effort tonight, with honourable mentions to Radulov, Markov and Weber. Heck, even Steve Ott has had a positive impact. Rangers will almost certainly come out fighting in the 3rd - the third game is usually taken by the eventual series winner.


- Habs with 56% CF edge 2 period total at even strength:

- Here's the 2-period heat map. Canadiens are dominating high danger chances so far, 10-4 in their favour (which is a significant margin):

- Kreider looked good his first two shifts, and nearly scored. Since then? Nada. Obviously if he doesn't deliver, the Rangers chances of winning this series, never mind tonight's game, are limited.

- Zuccarello gets nailed for a 4-minute high stick on Markov. Huge opportunity. 

- Oh god, what a pass by Radulov, behind his back through his skates to Galchenyuk who carries directly in front of Lundqvist, and instead of shooting, dishes off to Weber who buries it. Another fabulous tic-tac-toe goal gives the Habs a 2-0 lead. Radulov working his magic again.

- Another fabulous PK by the Habs. This unit has been one of the very top positive stories of the series, at least from the Canadiens' perspective.

- Rangers might not register 20 shots on Carey Price tonight, stuck on 14 with 8 minutes left. An incredibly disciplined effort by the Habs defence tonight.

- Habs simply great in their own zone, winning battles, blocking shots, guarding passing lanes. Rangers unable to get much of anything going, and Vigneault, maybe a bit of desperation, putting out a dizzying array of different line combos. Looking for a spark, any spark. 

- Oh god, oh god. Oh god. Alexander Radulov. One of the greatest goals I've seen scored by a Montreal Canadien player in years. Back checks at centre, creates turnover, then just chases a loose puck and stickhandles *around* Lundqvist with one hand. The deal is sealed. Radulov is a monster.

- Dammit, Price denied the shutout, Skjei who's been excellent for New York, with a shot that might have been deflected by Byron. 3-1.

- An outstanding game by the Montreal Canadiens, one of their best in years. Especially so the defence, who were disciplined and structured all night long, which kept the Rangers chances limited at best. There were few if any weak links in this Habs lineup - I would be very surprised if Claude Julien makes any adjustments for game 4. 


We're just hours away from game 3, a critical juncture in the Eastern Conference quarter final showdown between the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers. Lots of points to cover today in anticipation of the game, so let's get out the point forms.

- The Rangers as we all know, wrestled away home game advantage in the series with their 2-0 victory last Wednesday night. But is there really much of an advantage? New York hasn't won a playoff game at Madison Square Garden since 2015, and won just barely half of their home schedule this season - 21 wins, which represents the worst home ice record in the NHL this season amongst teams that qualified for the post-season. There's no rhyme or rationale for the Rangers struggles at MSG, it could be a statistical anomaly. Still, it must be concerning to the faithful that the Rangers are winless over their last 3 starts, and would be in real danger of getting knocked out if that streak reaches 4 tonight.

- The Canadiens have made some significant - some might say well overdue - lineup changes tonight. After torturing many a Habs fan last week with his erratic play (mainly in his own zone), Andreas Martinsen will be a scratch tonight. Slotting in on the 4th line will be Torrey Mitchell, who will play along side Steve Ott and Dwight King.

- Woah, did I say Dwight King on the 4th line? I sure did. With King moving down, Alex Galchenyuk will start tonight on the 3rd line at center (yay!), along with Artturi Lehkonen and Andrew Shaw. This adjustment will almost certainly please those who've been very critical of coach Claude Julien's attempt to create an "effective" 4th line, by placing the talented Galchenyuk there on wing beside Ott and Martinsen. But after 1 so-so 1st period last Wednesday, that 4th line has been more-or-less a defensive nightmare rather than an offensive asset for the Canadiens.

King's demotion to the 4th  will also be welcomed. While King's work ethic can't be questioned, his ability to finish plays, in particular his lacklustre shooting ability, was largely undoing the efforts of both Lehkonen and Andrew Shaw. Speaking of Shaw, the shifting of Galchenyuk will mean Shaw will return to wing after two disappointing efforts up the middle for games 1 and 2. Shaw, whom G.M. Marc Bergevin specifically targeted last summer for his strong post-season reputation, has been roundly nullified by the Rangers defence so far in the series. Moving Shaw back to the wing will likely take some of added burdens and responsibilities off his shoulders, and may encourage more aggressive play around the Rangers net.

- Speaking of the Rangers defence, they've been somewhat Jekyll and Hyde. Over the first two games, New York's top pairing of captain Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi have been excellent, limiting the Habs offence to just 10 scoring chances so far in the series. An even brighter spot has been New York's 3rd pairing of Brady Skejei and Brendan Smith, who have also limited the Canadiens to a ridiculously measly 4 scoring chances of the first two series games.

However, the same can't be said of Marc Staal and Nick Holden, both of whom were on the ice for 3 of the Habs 4 goals on Friday night, including the game tying and OT winner. The Stall/Holden pairing have also been on the ice for half of all the Habs high danger scoring chances. With these numbers, there's been much speculation since Friday night that Rangers coach Alain Vigneault might make some adjustments to the defence - including possibly promoting Skejei and demoting Holden.

- What will Vigenault do? We've no idea. While the Habs have been transparent in showing their lineup hand in advance of the puck drop, the Rangers are going to keep their lineup hush-hush right up to game time.

- While we've mentioned the Rangers defence, we almost forgot to talk about the Habs blue line adjustment tonight. After struggling with positional play in his own zone both Wednesday and Friday nights, Nikita Nesterov will be a scratch tonight. Brandon Davidson, many of whom had expected entering this series to be playing on the Habs 3rd defensive line, will finally get his first playoff start tonight.

- Goaltending! Carey Price was, as usual, excellent Friday night, making a series of key saves to keep his team within a goal throughout the 3rd period. The same might not be said of Henrik Lundqvist, who, while solid so far, has at times seem erratic between the pipes - on occasion fumbling the primary shot, and then scrambling to cover the rebounds. I don't think there's anything wrong with Lundqvist per say (certainly nothing injury-related), but his uneven play may suggest we're witnessing the first symptoms of the inevitable decline that goes with surpassing the mid-30s.

- Lineups! First the Habs:

Max Pacioretty - Phillip Danault - Alexander Radulov
Paul Byron - Tomas Plekanec - Brendan Gallgher
Arttrui Lehkonen - Alex Galchenyuk - Andrew Shaw
Dwight King - Steve Ott - Torrey Mitchell

Andrei Markov - Shea Weber
Jordie Benn - Jeff Petry
Nathan Beaulieu - Brandon Davidson

For the Rangers:

We have no idea because they aren't tell anyone anything.

Puck drops tonight at MSG at 7:10 EST.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are welcome, even anonymously. All I ask is that you behave, and in support of good taste, avoid the use of course language, or express opinions that are just plain silly (racist, sexist, etc.)