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Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday Musings:82 Games Later, Habs Are Tampa Bound

Greetings Habs Addicts,

The regular season wrapped up this weekend as Carey Price shut out the New York Rangers 1-0 on Saturday night. Price stopped 41 shots and Brian Gionta won the game on a penalty shot - thank you Raphael Diaz for being Raphael Diaz - in overtime to win it. The Habs seemingly have owned the Rangers the past couple of seasons, winning four of five games and all via shutout (three by Price). However, the Habs will be matching up with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round, not the New York Rangers. The Lightning won three out of four games this year against Montreal, posting a 3-0-1 record. All four games were extremely close (2-1, 2-1,2-1, 3-1 with an empty net goal) but advantage has lied with Tampa. Ben Bishop is currently injured and his status for the first round of the playoffs is up in the air for Tampa. He has yet to be ruled out for the first round of the playoffs, however he has also not been confirmed to return. The NHL injury-report mind-games continue. 

Photo Credit: MontrealHockeyTalk.com

Earlier this week, the Habs went to Chicago. Carey Price, Andre Markov and Alexei Emelin did not make the trip, but the Habs played extremely well in front of Peter Budaj until Marian Hossa scored to tie the game with under a minute to go. Patrick Sharp won the game in the first minute of overtime as the Habs dropped a 3-2 game to the Blackhawks. The next day the New York Islanders came to town and the Habs took the evening off, dropping a lacklustre 2-0 decision to Evgeni Nabokov and a squad of AHL callups. The following quote from Thomas Vanek pretty much sums up the Habs performance in this one: 

"It's no fun losing at this time, but sometimes, you're just not good enough. You have to give them credit, and at the same time, we sucked. The coaches prepared us and, I don't know if it was tired legs or we were mentally not there or both, but overall they kept skating hard and putting pressure on us and we didn't have a push back." - Thomas Vanek
Montreal did not come out to play in this one. The fans leaving the Bell Centre were booing everyone by the end of it and deservedly so. The result could have been more acceptable if the effort was there, but when Nabokov is only facing 18-shots on goal, something is wrong. 

- The Habs redeemed themselves with the win on Saturday night, however with Tampa Bay leap-frogging the Habs in the standings with a victory on Sunday, leaving those three points on the board against Chicago and New York cost the team home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs. As nice as home-ice advantage is, if Montreal can claim one victory in Tampa, it will more or less neutralize the said advantage. The Habs were equally as good on the road as they were at home, posting a 23-13-5 record at the Bell Centre and a 23-15-3 record elsewhere. Tampa Bay on the other hand is stronger at home having posted a 25-10-6 record while finishing with a 21-17-3 record elsewhere. The ability to play strong on the road is an asset come playoff time. Montreal will need this advantage in what should be a very tightly contested series. Losing Alex Galchenyuk to a lower-body injury will be costly to the Montreal offense. Galchenyuk will miss at least the first round. 

- Montreal re-signed goaltender Dustin Tokarski to a two-year contract extension this past week. The 24-year old Hamilton Bulldogs starter appeared in three games for the Habs this season, compiling a 2-0 record with a 1.84 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage with one shutout. Tokarski will most likely be given the opportunity to compete with Peter Budaj for the backup role next season and will most likely assume that role after Budaj's contract expires going into the 2015-16 season. Tokarski has been solid in Hamilton all season long and has shone since being acquired by Montreal for Cedrick Desjardins early last season. This move should serve as an exit from the organization for Devan Dubnyk at the conclusion of the season. Dubnyk, who was acquired at the trade deadline for future considerations, did not appear in any games for Montreal. It would be very surprising if the former first-round draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers remains in the organization, as he would likely have to sign a two-way deal and spend his time in Hamilton. Expect Dubnyk to sign on with an NHL team desperate for goaltending help such as the Islanders. The same Islanders who shut us out 2-0 this past week. Sigh. 

- Habs Addict's Darrin Harmsworth has posted a piece about the Canadiens Worries in the Playoffs. Harmsworth delves into advanced-stats world with this piece about Canadiens' Corsi rating in relation to other playoff-bound teams. In relation to their first round opponent the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Canadiens could be in trouble if they do not improve their puck possession play. On special teams, the Habs finished the regular season ranked 19th in the league on the power-play with a 17.2% conversion rate. Teams keyed up on P.K. Subban down the stretch knowing that the Habs relied on his point-shot to generate offense. Michel Therrien will need to change his approach in the playoffs. Montreal's penalty killing was 4th in the league with an 85.1% kill rate. Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta were a huge part of that and they will be tasked with shutting down Steven Stamkos this round. While the Habs even-strength play will be extremely important, special teams performance can also make or break a playoff series.

The playoffs are upon us. It is the most wonderful time of the year. The first round will be tough. Personally, I expect a closely fought battle with the Habs ultimately prevailing in six games. I expect Ben Bishop will miss a couple of games and that shall be the difference in the series as Anders Lindback is not nearly the difference maker that Bishop is. If Bishop plays from the start, I expect he can steal an extra game for Tampa but my overall prediction doesn't change, just make it Habs in seven instead.

Let the games begin!

Three Questions From My Musings

A) Will the Habs get past the Lightning in the first round?

B) Who should be the top-six defensemen in this series?

C) Will Carey Price continue his all-world play in the playoffs or will his playoff woes return?


 ---
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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