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Monday, March 31, 2014

Monday Musings: How Sweep It Was

Greetings Habs Addicts!

Tremendous week for Montreal hockey this past seven days. The Habs played four games this past week and won all four of them. Over their past ten games, the Canadiens record is 8-2. On Fire! En feu! En fuego! However you say it, they are HOT!

Photo Credit: AWinningHabit.com
The week began with back-to-back games against the Boston Bruins in Boston on Monday and then home Tuesday for a game against the lowly Buffalo Sabres. The Bruins were in the midst of an NHL best 12-game winning streak while the Sabres remained the worst team in the league. Needless to say, it caused quite a stir in the media when Michel Therrien announced that Peter Budaj would be getting the start against Boston, with Carey Price playing against the Sabres. Conventional wisdom would point to this as Therrien basically conceding the game to Boston in an attempt to ensure the two-points against Buffalo. Budaj has a stellar career record against Boston going 5-2-0 with a 2.36 goals-against average and .919 save percentage to go along with one shutout. Budaj has also been awful since the Habs returned from the Olympic break, even conceded a start to AHL goalie Dustin Tokarski against the Sabres the week prior when Carey Price was unable to play. Price is no slouch against Boston either for his career posting a 17-8-3 record with a 2.50 goals-against and the same .919 save percentage. Price is also your all-world, Olympic-gold-medal winning goaltender and you are facing the best team in the NHL and arguably your biggest rival. 'Therrien Logic' at its finest. Whether it was a gut-call or a carefully thought-out plan, it worked. Budaj stymied Boston and the Habs played one of their best defensive games of the season as Montreal pulled off a 2-1 shoot-out victory. The next night in Buffalo, Price stopped all 24-shots he faced in a fairly dominant but closely scored 2-0 Canadiens win. Michel Therrien's goal-tending gamble paid off and the Habs won both ends of the back-to-back set.

This past Thursday the Habs headed off to Detroit for a match-up against the playoff-bubble Red Wings. Detroit has been hit hard by the injury bug and was rostering a large contingent from their AHL team. Even with no Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk in the line-up, the Wings gave the Canadiens quite a test. Tomas Plekanec had two goals in the first period, each set up by P.K. Subban and David Desharnais potted one in the second before the Wings came back and made a game out of it in the third period. Down 3-1, the Wings came back to tie the game after some very sloppy defensive play by the Habs and notably Subban, who finished a -1 even with two even-strength assists in the game. Max Pacioretty and Thomas Vanek each scored in the period and the Habs held on for a 5-4 win at Joe Louis Arena.

From there, Montreal flew out to Florida for a Saturday night match-up against the Florida Panthers. The Habs had not played well against the Panthers this season, but the top-line of Thomas Vanek, David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty continued to roll along. Pacioretty scored two goals - his first two ever in 16 career games against the Panthers - and added an assist while Desharnais and Vanek each contributed a goal and a helper as the Canadiens easily fended off the hapless Panthers in a 4-1 victory to sweep the weeks' slate of games.

Last week my musings centered around the coaching job of Michel Therrien this season. It was very critical regarding some of his personnel choices and offensive strategy choices. This week started off with one of his most questionable decisions of all working out in the Habs favour. His decision to re-insert Douglas Murray to the line-up over Jarred Tinordi against both the Maple Leafs the Saturday prior and against the Bruins proved to be the correct call, as Murray played a very physical game against two very physical teams. Mike Weaver has been playing phenomenal hockey since he was acquired at the deadline for a lowly fifth-round draft pick. Weaver has been filling the role of Josh Gorges while Gorges recovers from a hand injury and has clearly surprised both the fans and the media with his physical style and gritty nature on the ice. While #TherrienLogic continues to baffle fans and critics alike, one is finding it hard to argue the results that Michel Therrien has been getting from his squad.

The Habs sit third in the Eastern Conference with a similar winning percentage as last season. But instead of the collapse we saw this time last season, they are playing some of their best hockey at the right time. Adding Thomas Vanek to the line-up has given the Habs the bonafide top-line sniper they have been missing in years past. Vanek and Pacioretty have combined to become a solid 1-2 punch up front. P.K Subban and Andrei Markov are two of the leagues top-15 defensemen in both points and minutes played. Carey Price is providing Vezina-calibre goal-tending on a nightly basis and Marc Bergevin has provided Therrien with overall depth that he missed last year. A deep playoff run is expected and another first-round elimination could potentially cost Therrien his job.

If there is one thing that Therrien has going for him is that he seems to have his team behind him. It's hard to know what goes on behind closed doors and the Montreal market is notorious for gossip and rumours. Many a player and coach have not survived the circus and the pressure that comes with being a Canadien. If you believe everything you read, you'd assume that Subban and Therrien are butting heads on a daily basis. You'd assume that Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk are regressing. You'd believe that the players are tuning out the coaches game plan and winning despite Therrien. Beneath the surface, there may be some truth to all of this. But teams that quit on their coaches do not show the intensity and passion that the Habs have shown all season long. The comeback against Ottawa. The Toronto game. The Detroit game. The Habs have not quit and have come back to win late in the game quite often this year. 24-CH shows us some of the behind-the-scenes, but not all of it. No one knows for sure what is truly said between periods or behind closed doors. But this team plays hard for Therrien and that has not changed throughout the year. The only problem is a lack of consistency. If seems they are either streaking or slumping hard. But you cannot argue the standings and they hockey they are playing right now. Even if he's done it while making seriously questionable decisions. If a grade had to be attached for the job he's done behind the bench this season, one cannot overlook the overall results. But the questionable decisions continue despite the wins being posted. As such, a B- would be appropriate.

This week the Habs remain in Florida for a pivotal match-up with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. The Lightning sit two points behind Montreal with one game in hand in the standings. The three previous games between these two teams have all been decided by 2-1 scores with advantage going to Tampa Bay. After this game the Habs head out to Ottawa for a Friday night game against the Senators, followed by a Saturday night home game against the Detroit Red Wings. A lighter schedule in terms of volume, but certainly not in terms of importance.



Three Questions From My Musings

A) Are the Habs getting hot too soon or can they carry this momentum over to the playoffs?

B) Should Therrien be relieved of his duties if the Habs fail to get past the first round?

C) Who do you feel the Habs will face in the first round of the playoffs?

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Nick M. is a transplanted Montrealer, currently living in evil LeafLand. He is a contributor here at HabsAddict.com and give him a follow, as he can often be found rambling on Twitter.


Past Monday Musings 



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