Where to begin?
Should I start by talking about how the Canadiens once again let a lead evaporate?
Should I discuss the fact that in losing 6-3 to the Capitals, the Canadiens now have their back against the wall going into Friday's Game Five, in Washington?
Perhaps I should start by talking about how the Habs once again completely dominated the Caps for 40 minutes, but failed to capitalize on their chances only to give up another shorthanded goal to let the Caps tie the game?
To be honest, it doesn't matter where we begin when the final result of last night's game was that the bile of the entire nation of Habs fans is starting to rise.
Listening to post-game shows across the city last night and this morning shows how angry and fed up fans are.
While I tend to agree with most of the fans and think that the Habs need to do a clean sweep of their front office—president Pierre Boivin, GM Pierre Gauthier, and coach Jacques Martin—I think that expectations for many were unnaturally high.
People seem to forget that he Habs couldn't win a game over their last two weeks, and backed into the playoffs by losing to the Leafs in overtime. The Habs could have, at any point over the last month, earned another point or two and they would not be facing the Caps in round one. So this is really their own doing.
The Caps got goals from Alex Ovechkin (two), Mike Knuble (two), Jason Chimera, and Nicklas Backstrom, with the Habs responding with Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, and Dominic Moore.
Final score: Habs 3-Caps 6, Caps lead series 3-1.
1. Carey Price played well enough to win, but the team is just not good enough.
Winning the first game of the series gave Habs fans the unrealistic notion that they could beat the Capitals. In a way, it was not an entirely false notion considering that the Canadiens have severely outplayed the Caps for long stretches of this series.
Despite the focus constantly being on the Canadiens goaltenders—their one area of true strength—the fact remains that this team is just not very good. They are what their record during the regular season reflects: A team barely good enough to make the playoffs.
And why, you might ask? Well, I think a lot of it has to do with having a coach whose style does not mesh with the players on his roster, and vice versa.
2. Oh, Roman Hamrlik, how far you have fallen.
Yesterday marked the second game in a row where Roman Hamrlik was on the power play and turned the puck over resulting in a back-breaking shorthanded goal against the Habs.
Yesterday the Habs were leading 2-1 in the second period and completely dominating the Caps when Hamrlik turned the puck over on the power play. The Caps were able to convert on their shorthanded two-on-one to tie the game with three seconds left in the period. Talk about a momentum killer in a period where the Habs outshot the Caps 21-9—and were outshooting them 33-19 overall.
As much as Hamrlik was a hero over the first 30 or so games of the season—filling in admirably while Markov was out—I think he played too many minutes too early in the season as he looks like he has nothing left in the tank.
3. The Habs defense is in disarray.
Yesterday's game started with Jaroslav Spacek being a game-time scratch from the lineup. This was bad news for the Habs as Spacek had to that point been their most effective player at shutting down Ovechkin.
In his absence, the role of Ovechkin killer fell to Josh Gorges who filled in admirably.
Ryan O'Byrne was also, finally, inserted in the lineup and played a relatively invisible game, which is to say he was neither noticed for major mistakes or major triumphs.
Unfortunately, however, Jacques Martin continued to use Marc-Andre Bergeron as Andrei Markov's defense partner. While most of the players on the team are minuses right now—a reflection of the Habs lack of five-on-five scoring ability—the worst of the bunch is MAB.
Bergeron was again a minus-three last night and now, over four games, is a league worst minus-eight. If it wasn't clear before last night, it should be crystal clear today: MAB is a defensive liability.
Play him only on the fourth line and the power play, or not at all.
4. The Caps are a good team, but I don't think there is any way they can win the cup.
Now I am sure to get flamed by all of the Caps fans out there for saying so, but how can the Caps win the cup?
This is a team who the Habs are running circles around, and the Habs are not a good team. How in the world is Washington going to beat Pittsburgh, Vancouver, or Detroit, or any real contending team?
No, this is a team built for offense only and the Habs have exposed them as such. If the Habs had any kind of elite level skill, they would be burying the myriad chances they have been getting.
That, by the way, has been the Habs problem all year long: They are unable to capitalize on their chances. Moreover, and far too often, they get a ton of chances, can't score, the other team scores, and they fall apart.
That has largely been the story of this series.
But back to the Caps for a second. The team and their fans are ecstatic at their thumping of the Montreal Canadiens, and they should be. Before the series started, I said the Caps would win it in five games and I am still sticking to that prediction.
That being said, Caps fans, I wouldn't get too high on your defeat of the lowly Habs. There are real teams up ahead and if your team continues to play the way they have against the Habs, I feel they are in for a world of hurt.
Look Out Ahead!
The Habs will surely be spinning all of the standing clichés over the next 48 hours. We have our backs up against the wall. We have to take this thing on game at a time. We still believe we can come back.
All the clichés in the world do not change the fact that the Habs need a major miracle to comeback and beat the Caps in seven games.
This is not impossible, but highly unlikely. In order to come back from a 3-1 series deficit, the team has to believe. Not just say that they believe, but truly, deep down, believe that they can win this thing.
After three heartbreaking losses, I expect that more than a few players in the Habs room feel that this is over.
Last night there was a report that Jaroslav Halak stayed on the ice long after his teammates had gone to the locker room, staring up at the banners in the rafters. Clearly this report was meant to indicate that Halak might be thinking that he has played his last game in Montreal.
Whether its true or not, it reflects the feeling that this series is over and I for one believe that it will be on Friday.
The teams now fly back to Washington for Game Five on Friday night.
Can the Habs win on Friday to extend the series? Yes. Absolutely. If they play they have played every game in this series, and do so for 60 minutes, then yes, they can win.
But what are the chances of that happening?
The Canadiens are a mediocre team at best, and as such their margin of error on any given night is razor thin, especially when facing the likes of the Capitals. The pattern over this series has seen the Habs play dominant hockey until they make a mistake and the mistake almost always ends up in their net.
If things go according to Hoyle, the Caps will not only win on Friday, but both Alexander Semin and the Caps powerplay—neither of which have produced a goal—will also wake up.
According to NHL.com, teams have trailed 3-1 in a best-of-seven series a total of 229 times and have come back to win the series on 20 occasions or 8.7 percent of the time, so miracles do happen.
Will the Canadiens find a miracle of their own? Starting Friday night, we will find out.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Where to begin?