Monday, 17 April 2017

Game 4 - ECQF: Habs vs. Rangers

New York 2, Montreal 1:


- So Tanner Glass and Kevin Klein are the healthy scratches tonight for the Rangers. Klein isn't much of a surprise, but Glass is ... kinda. It's also a pretty good indicator the Rangers are changing tact, less emphasis on physical and grit, more on speed and skill.

- That said, Nick Holden, who had two miserable starts for games 1 and 2, is back in the lineup tonight, which Rangers fans won't be pleased about.

- So will the real Chris Kreider, at least as we've come to know him over the years, reappear tonight?

- Pretty energetic start for the Rangers, Habs being very cautious, even reserved, with the puck. Seems to be willing to take a few body blows by leaning on Price early.

- Galchenyuk needs to be much more aware with the puck - making far too many casual and careless passes that have been setting the table for a fast Rangers transition.

- Gallagher just keeps on motoring along doing the same old Gallagher thing, crashing Lundqvist and pushing the puck hard. Anything to get under Lundqvist's skin is a good thing.

- Rangers playing with a lot of urgency early out, besides no longer focusing on hits, likely their primary focus is to do whatever it takes to make sure they score the first goal. Very intense in their own zone, hard on the puck, and putting bodies in front of any shot attempts.

- Plekanec line seems more focused early on checking, rather than as a counterpunch line. Not a lot of forechecking emphasis, more zone defence. Basically Julien, like everyone else, knew the Rangers would come out inspired early, so he's made adjustments to try to slow the game pace down.

- 11 minutes left, here comes another Rangers charge. Habs just trying to clamp down high danger chances.

- Gallagher having a fantastic 1st period, absolutely fearless going to Lundqvist, has come very close twice to giving the Habs the game's first goal.

- Great breakaway save by Lundqvist on Shaw, who just can't deliver the goods. Still not sure if Lundqvist isn't looking more like the shaky version was saw mostly 1st period of game 1. Opportunity possibly at hand for the Habs.

- Markov misplays a shoot-in, Jasper Fast takes full advantage quickly taking the gift-wrapped puck, and backhanding the puck between the legs of what appeared to be a surprised Price. Rangers get the big first goal. Put a big checkmark next to one off their main goals.

- These bad bounces can sometimes have a spin-off effect. Andrew Shaw back to his bad ways with a wretched tripping penalty behind the Rangers net. The powerplay goal-less Rangers get another chance to get that unit working again.

- Rick Nash absolutely crashes Price driving the net (and picks up an interference penalty). Besides the call, that sure looked like intent to cause some injury. Rangers gotta be Rangers.

- Radulov careless high stick. Habs trying to play a grinding road game, but you gotta do it smart. So far, the Canadiens have not played an intelligent period.

- Radulov with another monster play, making a hit at centre ice to win the puck, and then feeding Mitchell for a two-on-one break which is beautifully finished by a wonder pass back from Weber to Mitchell who has a wide open net. Fantastic goal that doesn't happen if Radulov doesn't make that fantastic play in the neutral zone.

- That has to be a dispiriting result for the Rangers, who played a very solid 20 minutes, largely outchancing the Canadiens, and eventually taking advantage of a rare Habs defensive error. But all of that goes for not with the late Mitchell goal. It will be interesting to see how New York responds in the 2nd - it'll either be with resilience, or ... if the Habs score the next goal, they might fold up their tent for the night.


- Rangers owned possession in the period, just over 61% CF at even strength. The heat map, however, a more even result, Habs with more scoring chances (9-5), and high danger chances 5-4 Montreal:

- Rangers get the critical 3rd goal of the game, as Benn and Petry have a poor shift, marked by confusion over responsibility, which allows Nash to pick up the puck off the boards and backhand it past Price.

-Nash goal has the Rangers playing at another gear. Habs simply holding on, weathering another storm. 13 minutes left in the period - critical juncture here. If the Rangers score again shortly, they might pull away. Canadiens desperately need not so much the next goal, but to scale back the pace of this game.

- Not sure how much longer the Canadiens can withstand this - too many d-zone turnovers happening now, Rangers are eating the Canadiens alive in the Montreal side of the rink. Canadiens don't even have a shot on Lundqvist, and we're nearly at the halfway mark.

- Rangers are winning most of the battles, especially so in the neutral zone. Canadiens forwards not more than a split second of time to handle the puck before they're immediately checked. Not much you can do other than hope your opponent eventually wears out. Rangers showing no sign of that yet, however.

- Rangers with massive pressure building and building, they're completely owning centre ice. 7 minutes left, just can't see the Habs holding out much longer.

- Pretty sure Petry is playing hurt. Nothing other than observation, but he's lost a step tonight, and has had some pretty up (and at times very) down shifts.

- Late period powerplay is "meh" - shots registered including a good chance for Lehkonen - gaining the zone has been fine, but not enough traffic in Lundqvist's face to really present a threat. Habs are likely going to need to crash and burn that Ranger crease if they want to tie this game up.

- Seems like Julien has lost a degree of confidence in Danault, who's been pretty invisible most of this series. He's been taken off the powerplay units, both the 1st and 2nd line. Just not enough playoff intensity in his game.

- That was a lopsided period in favour of the Rangers, Habs could arguably been happy with being just one goal down. The Rangers simply want this game more than their opponent, it shows with how they're winning puck battles, containing the Habs attack, and winning the neutral zone with a superior forecheck. The decision to shelve their hitting game seems to be paying dividends. Habs will need to muster up a terrific 3rd period if they want to gain a stranglehold series lead.


- Hasn't been a classic road game by the Canadiens through 2 periods. An indicator of a well played game on another rink is you establish the mode. Well, the mode tonight has been mainly a Rangers game where they've been able to leverage their speed and skill superiorities.

- Habs trying to be more involved at centre ice, results have been somewhat promising with a few puck gains via backchecks and pass interceptions.

- Lundqvist almost completely muffs a Galchenyuk shot, looking behind for the puck (which actually squeezed through his legs). He's been great tonight, but he still has these occasions where you have to hold your breath.

- Rangers being very physical first 5 minutes of the 3rd, which is kind of ... weird? They're playing the same style which got them into a heap of trouble two nights ago.

- Habs 4th line continues to be a defensive nightmare, even with Martinsen no longer in the lineup. Both King and Ott struggle so much positionally, the Rangers are eating them alive. Price again holding his team in this.

- Yup, Rangers are going to try and bruise their way through this 3rd period. Canadiens are getting more opportunities to score the first 9 minutes of this period that they had the previous 40.

- Julien puts Shaw with Pacioretty and Danault, and Radulov is playing next to Galchenyuk and Lehkonen. Interesting. Obviously he's trying to find some inspired combinations as time wears down, but I'm not sure how familiar Radoulov/Galchenyuk/Lehkonen are with each other.

- Time isn't quite a concern with 10 minutes left, but at some point the Habs will need to open things up.  After early period pressure, the Rangers have really clamped down defensively. Montreal generating few scoring chances here, mainly because they're struggling so much to gain the New York zone.

- Habs with puck control in the Rangers zone, but can't muster a shot on Lundqvist. New York forcing the play to the permitter, and the defence is doing a great job guarding Habs forwards in the slot.

- Ott line can't be faulted for their ability to chance and win pucks, but constructing a scoring attempt, they're totally inept. 6 minutes left. Just no point putting them out there anymore.

- Rangers aren't exactly turtling their way through this period, not with all the hits they've been dishing out. Most of the play has been on the New York side of the ice, but the scoring chances have been limited.

- Oy. Icings aplenty by the Canadiens, which is exactly not what the Habs should be doing trailing a goal with barely 4 minutes left. Montreal simply unable to get clean pucks to their forwards, the Rangers are being aggressive at centre ice stunting attacks. Frustratingly effective.

- 3 minutes left, time to open all the engines and roll any dice in the room.

- Another icing. Poor passes from the defence to the offence is completely hampering the Canadiens.

- Habs 4th line out, with less than 3 minutes left. I don't understand that at all.

- Another icing. Long bombs, low percentage. Desperate attempts to get the puck down the ice. Not good. Not good.

- Brenden Smith is getting hacked to pieced this period. Radulov earlier, huge elbow to his face by Byron.

- Weber DING. I think that's his 3rd post this series. With 1:20 left. Sigh. That's the Habs closest chance in the game, which is also not good.

- Well, can't say the Habs didn't try. Absolutely ferocious scramble around Lundqvist with 50 seconds left, with 5 bodies in white jerseys throwing their bodies at the goal. Rangers getting plenty of puck luck tonight.

- Rangers make key late shot blocks, and eek out a win, which is some solace if you're a Habs fan. New York appears only capable of winning games by the narrowest of margins. The victory coming from a very solid 2nd period which generated the winning goal, and then holding on in the 3rd, with the added benefit of some lucky bounces. I'm not sure if this is a formula that will see the Rangers through to a series victory. From the Habs perspective, a tough loss. But through 4 games, the Canadiens are clearly the better team - which in a scenario of best 2 out of 3, would argue to favour the Canadiens eventually winning  the series. For what it's worth, that's my gut feeling.




A few observations in advance of tonight's 4th game between the Habs and Rangers, with the Canadiens seeking a 3-1 series lead, and the Rangers facing almost certain playoff extinction if they're unable to win tonight:

- Claude Julien, as widely anticipated, is making no changes to his lineup tonight, which means Alex Galchenyuk will start again at centre, while the 4th line will feature Torrey Mitchell with Steve Ott and Dwight King. Defensively, Alexei Emelin is still out with an unspecified injury, with Brandon Davidson earning his second consecutive start on the 3rd line next to Nathan Beaulieu.

- The Rangers lineup is again a mystery. Alain Vigneault has kept his card close to the chest all series long, is unlikely to show his hand until the puck drops. Even his pregame warmups have told us nothing - on Sunday night Vigneault attempted to fake out Claude Julien by running a bunch of fake line combinations. Judging by the final score, we're not sure how well that deceptive strategy paid off.

- A lot has been made about the Rangers hitting in the series. So far they've delivered 160 hits (by far the most registered by any team in this year's playoffs) against the Habs, which while bruising, isn't necessarily a positive indicator. Basically, if you're wildly outhitting your opponent, it's likely because you're doing more of the chasing. Also, the emphasis on physicality has largely nullified a significant quiver in the Rangers's arsenal of speed amongst their forwards. You can't body check and maintain a fast game. It's a weird strategy taken by New York, and the results, a 2-1 series deficit, speak for themselves.

- That said, I'd fully expect New York to significantly shift their approach tonight, scaling back the focus on finishing checks, and working on delivering a more intense forecheck, especially at centre ice, to generate more positive puck turnovers, which could then be brought quickly into the Canadiens zone.

- Another somewhat baffling missing element to the Rangers' anticipated attack this series has been the lack of traffic in and around Habs netminder Carey Price. Three years ago, the Rangers basically won their series against Montreal by pushing the Habs net - to the extent they (Chris Kreider) literally took Price, and in turn, the Canadiens, out of the series. This year, it's been very quiet around the Canadiens' crease, perhaps influenced by the presence of not only Shea Weber, but also Jordie Benn. Both have played excellent physical games this series, doing great work not only blocking shots, but stopping Rangers bodies from coming anywhere close to Price.

- As is often the case in a Stanley Cup playoff series, speciality team performances are having a significant impact. For the Canadiens, their powerplay, running at a 20% conversion rate this series, is aligned very close to the regular season average (19.6%). The big impact though, has been the Habs penalty kill, which at this point, has been a perfect 100.0%. From New York's perspective, the inability to score a single powerplay goal up to this point in the series has made an already difficult task - that is, scoring more goals against Carey Price, nearly impossible. If the Rangers can't get their speciality units on track, their odds of winning this series are minimal.

- The Canadiens hope to see another strong outing by their best line so far in the playoffs - Tomas Plekanec, Paul Byron and Brenden Gallagher. Those three have dominated the Rangers, especially in New York's zone. Plekanec, who's currently playing some of his best hockey in at least 5 years, has done an outstanding job applying pressure on the Rangers defence, while Gallagher, who's looked as good as ever in his career, has been fantastic winning puck battles along the boards.

- Will the Rangers finally shed themselves of their home ice funk? 0 for their last 6. Something's gotta give, right?

- Puck drops at MSG 7:10 EST.


Basking in the glow of an excellent game 3 victory over the New York Rangers, we have some series news in notes in advance of game 4, Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden:

- Habs held practice this morning, and ran the same line combos as game 3 - a very sure sign that Claude Julien, satisfied with what he witnessed Sunday night, isn't going to make any adjustments.

- While the Habs are standing pat, the same can't be said of the Rangers, who also held practice this morning, featuring significantly revised combos. The "*" indicates player being shifted to a different line compared to game 3's starting lineup:

Vesey* - Stepan - Nash*
Zuccarello* - Hayes* - Miller*
Kreider* - Zibanejad* - Glass*
Grabner* - Lindberg - Fast

McDonagh - Girardi
Staal - Holden*
Skjei - Smith*

Not a good sign if you're a Rangers fan.

More in a bit.

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