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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Canadiens Playoff Primer: Habs Face Elimination in Game 6 Against Bruins

by Kamal Panesar

Why do people lean on stats so much? On numbers? On wins and losses of preceding editions of current teams?

It never seems to amaze me how much focus is put on things that, if you think about it, have no bearing on the present. I mean who cares what last year's team did? What does that have to do with this year's team?

So this morning, with the Montreal Canadiens facing elimination at the hands of the Boston Bruins in Game 6, things are no different.

If you were to pick up a newspaper or reading a hockey website, you'd hear how the Canadiens were 5-1 in elimination games in last year's playoffs. You'd also hear how the Bruins have never won a playoff series after losing the first two games—they have failed to do so in 26 tries.

But what bearing does 26 previous iterations of the Bruins, with different players, coaches and playing in different eras, have to do with the success on the 2011 Bs?

What too does the Habs 5-1 record in last year's playoffs have to do with a team with Carey Price instead of Jaroslav Halak, and missing Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges?

The answer is, very little if anything at all.

The fact is that it's become a cliché to bring up stats from years gone by in an effort to predict how a team will fare in the present. The bottom line is that these numbers are, like my good Twitter friend @touteparpillee said, merely historical indicators.


So what does matter?

What is relevant then, if we can't look at back-stats to try and determine the fate of the Habs tonight? I would say, to start with, current stats from the current series.

As I said in my Game 5 postgame piece, if nothing else, these two teams have shown that they are very evenly matched. They both win based off strong defense and excellent goaltending—although neither have been consistent through five games this series.

So the first thing that stands out, to me, is the even-Steven 12 goals for and against for both teams. With the last two games being decided in overtime, this really has been and continues to be a series that can go either way.

Another interesting stat, and part of the reason for the Bruins three-game win streak, is that Boston has eight players with at least two points over the last three games.

Eight players and not one of them is named Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton or David Krejci.

The Bs No.1 line, that was supposed to body the Habs out of the rink, has not been a factor in any game in this series. Whether because of the defensive blanket Montreal has thrown over them or their own ineptitude, Lucic, Horton and Krejci have failed to be difference makers—save for Horton's Game 5 overtime game-winning goal.

So while their top guns have been silenced the rest of the Bruins' considerable depth has picked up the slack and they are winning as a result. The bulk of the Bruins scoring in the last two games has come from the bottom-nine and their defense. Players like Rich Peverely, Chris Kelly, Michael Ryder and Brad Marchand all having three points—Peverely's three were scored over his last three games—while Patrice Bergeron has five points over the last three.

In addition, Tomas Kaberle and Dennis Seidenberg each have two points over the last two games, while Andrew Ference has two over the last three.

The bottom line is the only response Montreal has had, is P.K. Subban with two points in his last three and Michael Cammalleri with seven points in five games. Moreover, key forwards Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta each have only one point in the last four games.

That's just not good enough.


A test of character

The Bruins have shown incredible resolve and character by battling back from a 2-0 series deficit. Boston's three-straight wins gives them a 3-2 series lead and has pushed the Habs to the brink of elimination.

So as much as the Bruins demonstrated tremendous character it's now the Canadiens turn to show what they're made of.

With players like Hal Gill, Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Brent Sopel and Travis Moen all having Stanley Cup rings, the Habs have a veteran core who has been there before and will have their teammates ready tonight.

Add to that the calming play of Carey Price, the all-star contributions of P.K. Subban, the grittiness of Ryan White, the sheer determination of Mathieu Darche, the physical play of Andrei Kostitsyn and the renaissance of Michael Cammalleri, and the Canadiens have all the pieces they need.

If there is one thing Montreal has shown this season it's the ability to win when you least expect them to. Moreover, they have been able to overcome the seemingly disastrous losses of their top two defenseman; Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges.

As such, and reading all the press clippings, this is a team that is not nervous, worried or concerned in any way about tonight's game. They know what's at stake but actually seem to be brimming with confidence and a laser-point focus. It's that tunnel vision that will allow them to feed off, but not get consumed by, what will be a ravenous Bell Centre crowd tonight.

The Bruins might have a size advantage—an advantage they have failed to press—but Montreal's smaller forwards have big hearts. They are not about to bow out at home in a game and a series that is still very winnable for them.


What to expect

This has been a series of momentum where games have been decided by the slightest of margins and, often, errors. Each game has been a microcosm of the series, with momentum swinging back and forth and more than just momentary lapses of defensive reasoning on both sides.

As such, I expect tonight's game to be no different from the previous five. It will be a tight game with neither team yielding an inch to the other uncontested.

If there was a major fault to the Habs' play in Game 5, it was that they sat back for two periods before finally pressing the play in the third. Once they woke up, they got on the scoreboard and forced overtime.

That strategy won't work on a consistent basis and Montreal, who will be buoyed by the crowd, has to attack Boston right off the bat. The Bruins know the Canadiens will come at them hard and Montreal has to oblige them, score the first goal and use the momentum to put Boston down quickly.

Just as they did in Game 4, the Habs would do well to jump out to a multi-goal lead. They surely won't lose the game again if they get out front on the scoreboard.


Injuries

In Game 5, David Desharnais played his best game of the postseason. So much so that he earned a promotion onto the second line with Gomez and Gionta. Well, unfortunately for the Habs, DD tweaked his knee near the end of the game and will miss tonight's critical Game 6.

In addition, James Wisniewski seemed to have hurt his back last game. He will be a game time decision but is unlikely to play. As such, it's looking like Jacques Martin will insert Paul Mara and Yannick Weber into the lineup.

Mara will likely play next to Brent Sopel as the Habs' third defensive pairing, while Weber will be used as a forward on the fourth line with Tom Pyatt and White.


A date with destiny

I originally picked the Bruins to win this series in six games and, if they win tonight, I will have been right. That being said, I just can't see the Habs season ending at home tonight after such a hard fought season and series.

I think they'll take the play to the Bruins, winning the game and forcing a Game 7 which, insanely, would be tomorrow night in Boston.

The Canadiens know what they need to do, the veterans have been there before and now is time for them to execute.

Game time is at 7:00 PM.


New Sunday Shinny Podcast

In this episode of the Sunday Shinny Gary Whittaker, Nick Murdocco and Kamal Panesar take a look at the following:

-Jacques Martin and the Canadiens' system
-The Canadiens so far in the playoffs
-Is this the end of the line for the Habs or can they push the series to seven?
-A quick look at the other playoff series and much more!

Click play below to listen in (listing time 37:17):


---
Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 - 9 AM. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/

Follow Kamal on Facebook and Twitter


(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images North America)

3 comments:

So we're all set, right?

To me, this series has boiled down to one thing for the Habs: The best players as a group have not been the best players.

The Habs 5 best forwards (in terms of paychecks) have a collective 25 games played, notching just 7 goals and 10 assists, while being -7 (none of these players is above 0).

That simply isn't good enough, and there's no way anybody can convince me otherwise.

The funny part is, it wouldn't have taken much more than their current sub-par performance to make a HUGE impact. If Cammalleri, Plekanec or Gionta had buried their chances from game 5, the Habs would be the team looking to move on tonight.

It's a very fine line between success and failure in the playoffs, but you always need your best to lead, and the Habs aren't getting that right now from their big guns as a group.

Furthermore, since the game 3 loss, we've been saying how we think the Habs know what they have to do, and that they just need to execute. The only problem is that they haven't been able to execute. Now with their backs against the wall, will they? They have to, or it's all over, and the autopsy will not be pretty.

So we're all set, right?

To me, this series has boiled down to one thing for the Habs: The best players as a group have not been the best players.

The Habs 5 best forwards (in terms of paychecks) have a collective 25 games played, notching just 7 goals and 10 assists, while being -7 (none of these players is above 0).

That simply isn't good enough, and there's no way anybody can convince me otherwise.

The funny part is, it wouldn't have taken much more than their current sub-par performance to make a HUGE impact. If Cammalleri, Plekanec or Gionta had buried their chances from game 5, the Habs would be the team looking to move on tonight.

It's a very fine line between success and failure in the playoffs, but you always need your best to lead, and the Habs aren't getting that right now from their big guns as a group.

Furthermore, since the game 3 loss, we've been saying how we think the Habs know what they have to do, and that they just need to execute. The only problem is that they haven't been able to execute. Now with their backs against the wall, will they? They have to, or it's all over, and the autopsy will not be pretty.

Good stuff Kyle, thanks for your insights! I've got to agree with you here too...this team doesn't seem to be getting it done, no matter what they are saying off the ice.

That being said, aside from the 7-0 shellacking they took at the hands of the Bruins, Montreal has shown up all season when they HAVE TO. Not always when they should, but always when they have to.

Just ask the Vancouver Canucks!

If the "big guns" like Gionta and Gomez can't get it done tonight then there really is no hope for them. Cammalleri's play has been inspirational since the playoffs started....not so much for G&G.

1.5 hours to go!

@anon: Thanks and thanks for reading!

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