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Monday, June 2, 2014

Monday Musings: Rangers Shutdown The Habs

Greetings Habs Addicts,

The magical playoff run is over.

The New York Rangers proved to be too much for the Canadiens to handle as they fell 1-0 in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final. The Rangers limited the Canadiens to 18 shots on goal, including just 5 in the third period to win the best-of-seven game series 4-2. Obviously, losing Carey Price was a big blow to the Habs but their inability to generate any consistent offense five-on-five or on the powerplay was the real story. The Canadiens are a team built around speed, but the Rangers proved to be the faster and stronger team throughout the series. As such, they now have the opportunity to lose to face the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup finals. The Kings defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in overtime of Game Seven of the Western Conference Final last night marking their third Game Seven win of this years playoffs.

Canadiens post-game salute to the fans.
- Michel Therrien was outcoached by Alain Vigneault throughout this round of the playoffs. Therrien was phenomenal against the Lightning and throughout the Bruins series. He must be commended for making the smart decision to insert Nathan Beaulieu into the lineup late in the Boston series. The kid had two assists in his two games as the Canadiens knocked off the Bruins. Therrien also made the risky decision to go with youngster Dustin Tokarski over veteran backup Peter Budaj after Carey Price was injured in Game One of the Rangers series. Tokarski matched up well with Henrik Lundqvist and was the only Canadiens player to truly show up on the ice in Game Six. But as I wrote in last weeks article:
The Canadiens are playing a tighter defensive system to shelter the youngster at the expense of the offense. The powerplay has been rendered irrelevant by the Rangers penalty-killing scheme and the ignorance of Michel Therrien to adapt has rendered the man-advantage useless. The Rangers are the best shot-blocking team in the NHL and the Canadiens continue to run the power-play through the point. Subban and Markov have not been able to get open for clean shots and most of their attempts have been blocked. The Canadiens should be trying to set up down low and have one of their defenders pinch into the slot for a similar shot, or continually cycle players around. Keeping P.K. Subban stationary at the point to hammer pucks at the Rangers shin guards is the hockey equivalent of trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole. Adapt, Therrien.
Ultimately, Michel Therrien did not adapt his offense to counter the Rangers defensive schemes. He went back to playing the dump-and-chase style that did not serve the team well during the regular season. The Rangers would have a man on the boards to block the dump-ins or often were the stronger players on the back end and recovered the puck in the corner and in turn created offense breakouts of their own. For as well as he matched lines and created good strategies in the first two rounds, he failed to capitalize on opportunities against the Rangers. Alain Vigneault had his Rangers better prepared to shutdown the Canadiens attack. Whether Therrien would have adapted his game plan better if Carey Price was healthy in goal is unknown and ultimately irrelevant.

- Thomas Vanek did not help his free agent stock this post-season. Vanek finished up the playoffs as a member of the fourth line while continuing to see power-play time. Overall, he averaged only 14:53 of ice time; a number strengthened by his top-line minutes in the first two rounds. In 17 playoff games, Vanek contributed 5 goals and 5 assists. Four of those goals came in a pair of two-goal games against Boston. Vanek often looked lost against the Rangers and often displayed a lack of intensity and effort. Vanek battled hard in Game Six but that was it. The sniper also failed to shoot the puck on goal when the opportunity presented itself, preferring to pass to teammates who were either not expecting it or covered. After the series, Vanek attributed his playoff performance to the inability to find chemistry with his new linemates after he was removed from the Pacioretty-Desharnais line and not to injury or lack of effort. While the honesty is commendable, a superstar in the league should be able to create offense and make their linemates better. Vanek turned down a $50 million dollar extension from the New York Islanders earlier this year and is still the biggest name available on the market. But his inability to contribute when the stakes are at their highest might be enough to make Minnesota other teams pause about handing out the max-length contract the 30-year old is looking for.

- P.K. Subban is one player who certainly helped his stock this post-season. Subban was the best player on the ice on a nightly basis for the Canadiens. Subban led the team with a 27:26 in ice time throughout the playoffs and led the team with 5 goals, 9 assists in 17 playoff games. Subban has 10 goals and 30 points in 43 career playoff games and is one player who raises his game substantially when the stakes are high. Since signing his bridge contract - which expires this off-season - Subban won the Norris Trophy as the leagues best defender during the strike-shortened 2012/13 season and this year had a career-best 53 points. He experienced on growing pains and ended up benched or in Michel Therrien's doghouse a few times throughout the season and his shooting percentage was down this season. At times it looked like Subban should be clashing with Therrien over how he was being handled but always maintained a smile and positive energy as well as a level of humbleness that showed a level of maturity. Being the extra defender at the Olympics in Sochi was tough, but he handled it well and was proud to represent the country even if his role was more of cheerleader than scoring leader. This side of Subban certainly goes against the brash and cocky persona the media has labelled him with.

On the ice, teams keyed on Subban as the season wore on and the Canadiens needed to do a better job utilizing their asset. The Nashville Predators' Shea Weber has a very similar style to Subban as both have rockets from the point and both are right handed. The Predators did not boast the strongest power-play in the NHL, but Weber had 23 goals, including 12 on the man-advantage. They cycle their players around a lot and manage to get Weber open in various spots on the ice and in turn generate more scoring opportunities. As was evidenced against the Rangers, the Canadiens needed to adapt their power-play strategy as keeping Subban relatively stationary at the point is not going to work anymore.

Subban had an incredible playoffs and will certainly be receiving a huge payday this summer. As a restricted free agent, Subban does not have the leverage to go any place he chooses and there will not be a bidding war for his services like there will be for Thomas Vanek. However, general managers are not shy to give offer sheets to players of Subban's ilk. Shea Weber was signed to a huge offer sheet by the Philadelphia Flyers that Nashville matched and last season Avalanche forward Ryan O'Reilly signed one with the Calgary Flames that Colorado matched. If Marc Bergevin does not sign Subban to a contract close to his terms, the terms may be set for him by another NHL club. With lesser players making big money (Dion Phaneuf earns $7 million per year in Toronto) the price for P.K. will be high and deservedly so. The future captain (in my opinion) of the Canadiens wants to end his career in Montreal and will probably sign an 8-year deal worth around $60-64 million dollars.

With the season being over and the news surrounding the Habs begins to dwindle throughout the summer months, Monday Musings will continue to provide you with links and insight into developments that happen, including the NHL draft, free agency and player news and rumours. Thank you for reading this season, it was an enjoyable one. The Canadiens are just a few pieces short of their end-goal: A trip to the Stanley Cup.

Enjoy your summer, Habs Addicts!

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Nick Malofy 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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