Posts tagged ‘Bruins’

May 2, 2014

Habs-Bruins Game 1, Round 2: A Man Possessed

by Jacob Saltiel

call-of-duty-ghosts

 

At times like these, one wonders how a Bruins fan processes a game like last night’s. Watching your team control the game for two straight periods into overtime, getting open looks on the other team’s goalie, outhitting the opposition, and all but shutting down every Canadien except PK Subban and the unguardable Rene Bourque, can you even feel bad about your team’s play? Of course not. There is one thing to be very nervous about though, and that’s Carey Price’s glorious display.

The playoffs are a tricky thing for statisticians. Jonah Keri, of Grantland.com, makes the point that once the playoffs begin in MLB, he throws away his stats, since postseason series’ are comparatively short compared to the regular season, and just a few abnormal performances in either direction by key players can skew a mediocre team to victory and a good team to defeat. So it is with NHL goaltending in particular. Many a hockey fan will dread the familiar disaster that is an opponent’s goaltender finding a groove where nothing short of a bulldozer can push the puck past him.

Distressingly for Bruins fans, Price seems to have made a deal with the devil signed in blood, making a series of preposterous stops last night. Statheads will talk about elevated PDOs and unsustainable Fenwicks, indicating that the Canadiens are definitely screwed, and they might be right. For Bruins fans, they’d better hope that those numbers regress to the mean before the end of the series. For Habs fans, they’d better hope more players than Price, Subban, Bourque, Eller, and Plekanec show up in Games 2-7.

What’s Next?

The Bruins will probably come back in game 2 with a similar gameplan. If they play the same way in game 2 as they did in game 1, they could conceivably win by several goals with the only difference being pucks bouncing differently. The Bruins, recognizing that playoff nightmare that is a goaltender possessed by the daemon Mammon, will probably adjust their gameplan slightly to start running Price’s crease, camping in his line of sight, and crossing themselves before every shift. Bob McKenzie on TSN points out how all three Bruins goals occurred when Price couldn’t see the puck. The Bruins can’t do too much about Price playing the pucks he can see, but they can try and knock him out of his comfort zone and pray he doesn’t gain the ability to swivel his head 360 degrees around his neck.

The Canadiens, on the other hand, had better be ready to defend their goaltender. While Francis Bouillon scored a goal, Therrien might consider dropping him for Jarred Tinordi (Legend). I can hear you reading this and protesting some combination of:

1) Bouillon scored!

2) He’s experienced and tries hard!

3) Don’t tinker with a winning lineup!

But 1) Bouillon probably won’t score in any hockey league for another 6 months. 2) He’s also 5″8 , old, and these are professional athletes- they all try hard or they wouldn’t be here. 3) The Canadiens might have won that game on the scoreboard, but if you think this lineup doesn’t need some tinkering with, you’re still drunk from last night.

As the Bruins start hitting more, the Canadiens will need to respond, and playing Weaver and Bouillon at the same time- no matter how tough those two are or how great a story Bouillon- leaves the Canadiens at a serious size mismatch against forwards like Carl Soderberg, Milan Lucic, Daniel Paille, Jarome Iginla, etc… etc…

Therrien also really needs to do something about his best line being Eller, Bourque, and whoever skated with them since it’s unclear if any other Habs forwards touched the puck last night. Leaving aside the question of how Bourque can be objectively mediocre for 166 games over the last 3 seasons and then become the Prairies’ answer to Alexander Ovechkin, the Canadiens can’t win too many games without better performances from other forwards.

Travis Moen returned to the lineup, replacing the more-deserving Bournival. The arguments for including Moen are similar to the arguments for including Bouillon, but Bournival is good with the puck, a heck of a lot faster, and a better passer than TraMoen. As much as toughness will be an issue for the Canadiens in their crease, they need to take back the possession game, and Bournival can help do that.

That’s a relatively minor issue compared to the struggles of the top two lines. Desharnais seems like the only member of the topline who either gets the puck or harasses the Bruins D. Despite facing harder competition, Vanek and Pacioretty need to show something, even if it’s just physical play, to distract the Bruins from hoarding the puck.

Meanwhile, there was an interesting stat on RDS showing Krejci’s 1st round points, 23, and how only 1 goal from that number came against the Canadiens, since Plekanec has consistently shut him down. If Krejci didn’t score last night, it has less to do with being shutdown by forwards than by bad puck luck and Price’s play. If Plekanec and Gallagher aren’t going to score, they’d better get that puck and make life hard for the Bruins forwards tomorrow afternoon.

Ghosts

The media will now shift from discussing hatred and depth to ghosts and history. Despite Price being very much a creature of flesh and blood and some substance, the story will become about haunted goalposts and goaltenders of playoffs past stifling the Bruins. While the media hires exorcists to serve as panelists on their in-game talkshows, the Bruins will bring the hate back by beating the Canadiens down if they can’t put the puck in the net. As discussed above, Therrien’s got some adjustments to make for the real live players on his roster, since trusting in ghosts isn’t exactly a 21st century coaching strategy. It’s cute to imagine a team meeting around the campfire with each player passing a flashlight around and taking turns telling stories of their favourite playoff caper against the Bruins. But that won’t cut it, especially given the rumours that Subban, for all his sound and fury, gets the heebie-jeebies from ghosts.

Look, while it’s fun watching TD Garden fans pull out their hair as the Bruins throw holy water on Price in an attempt to rid him of the demons possessing him- CHECK THOSE WATER BOTTLES, REFS!- you have to hope that the Canadiens will start passing around the locker room whatever dietary supplement Bourque’s been snacking on.

BAD ADVERTIZING UPDATE: 

If Apple plays that iPhone 5 ad with the god-awful cover of the Pixies’ Gigantic one more time, I’m going to start vomiting uncontrollably and speaking in deviltongues. MERCY, PLEASE!

May 1, 2014

Hello Darkness My Old Friend: Canadiens v. Bruins, Playoffs Round 2

by Jacob Saltiel

Tampa Bay Lightning v Montreal Canadiens - Game Four

Flambeau Field Returns!

If you want to read the stats and history behind the upcoming series, I recommend you click here, here, here, or here.

Why should you read this piece, then? To identify your media narratives before the puck drops- that’s why!

There’s a couple of dominant themes developing before puckdrop:

1) Depth. The pundits would have you believe that, like Wu-Tang Rapper Raekwon, this series “got deep like a N.A.V.Y. Seal”.

2) Hatred. These teams don’t like each other. How the media ever dredged up some controversy between these teams is a mystery.

Away we go then.

Too Greedily, Too Deep

The story goes that the Canadiens beat the Lightning because they had more depth, as in, they had more NHL-quality players. Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper made the unlikely decision to drop half of his blueline between game 1 and 2, partially because of injury and partially because he wanted to play as many 6″6 stiffs as possible. Meanwhile, the Tampa 4th line included Cedric Paquette, who has played all of 2 and a half weeks in his NHL career and was in the QMJHL last month, and an assorted young players including Richard Panik, Nikita Kucherov, and J.T. Brown. In goal, the Lightning were forced to start a backup who’s save percentage was 30 points lower than the starter.

As for the Habs squaring off against this plucky group of Bolts, several habitual underachievers stepped up. Rene Bourque played out of his mind for 4 straight games. Bourque played hockey with Alex Ovechkin’s stats. Lars Eller, who has tantalized on previous occasions but mostly struggled in the regular season, is currently tied for the team lead in playoff scoring with 5, when he only scored 26 all year. For reference, that’s nearly 20% of his production over 77 regular season games into 4 playoff games. Dale Weise also emerged as a serviceable 4th liner. Post-deadline trade, he’d been more “Dale Weise he on our team?” than OT hero, but no matter. Also, Mike Weaver and Francis Bouillon played bottom-pair defence minutes, and didn’t completely kill the Canadiens. If they had, it wouldn’t have been Weaver’s fault as much as Bouillon’s, though.

This deep Canadiens team will now face off against the Bruins, a team that has, since 2011, won the Stanley Cup and returned to the finals behind- get this- a deep roster. Unlike the Lightning who were running with several youngsters, the Bruins have experienced NHLers at almost every position. If not for injuries to Chris Kelly, Dennis Seidenberg, and Adam McQuaid, there’d be very few rookies or sophomores on this team. Justin Florek, who nobody’s heard of, plays wing on a 3rd line centred by the 6″3 Carl Soderberg who scored 48 points, which would have ranked 5 on the Habs. On defence, the Bruins are rotating Kevan Miller, Matt Bartkowski, and Corey Potter on their bottom pair, which doesn’t hurt them so much since Chara will play half the game anyway.

So, for fans expecting the Habs depth players to run rampant on the Bruins the way it did against the Lightning, it’s highly unlikely. Vanek, Pacioretty, and Desharnais need to be more effective than they were in the 1st round, but against defensive beasts Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara. Against the Bruins, the Canadiens will test the commentators depth theory.

It’s not that the Canadiens have no chance, but like the last regular season meeting between these teams, the games will be tight, and goals will be as hard to come by for 1st liners as for 4th liners.

 

Hatred

Did you know that these teams don’t like each other? Well, they do. This time, they extra-double hate each other because they’re meeting in the 2nd, rather than the 1st round. Actually, these teams could meet at a Chuck-E-Cheese for a child’s birthday party and Brad Marchand might still knee cross someone in the ballpit as Lucic hacks them with a pool noodle in a different type of ballpit.

If you’re a Habs fan, it’s pretty obvious why the Habs might hate the Bruins. Barely a year goes by without some Bruins player trying to murder a Canadien in a hockey game. If that doesn’t get you pissed off, the Bruins’ inexplicable inferiority complex, where they complain that the refs are out to get them, that every team but them dives, and that every hit thrown by any opponent deserves retribution and then condemnation in the media, certainly should. I mean, between Chara, Marchand, Lucic, and the unjustifiably appreciated Shawn Thornton- who was benched for most of last year’s playoffs- the Bruins have divers and cheapshotters aplenty to choose from.

Now, the Canadiens aren’t completely innocent either. Subban is generally hated around the league because he’s insanely good, talks trash, isn’t afraid to embellish a bit, and throws the occasional massive open-ice hit. Emelin has also created his own peculiar irritating brand. Emelin’s disliked because he hits at every opportunity and he hits his opponents extremely hard. Never mind that almost all of those hits are clean and within the rules. And especially pay no attention to the fact that he cannot fight owing to a metal plate in his face. Chara, in particular, has attacked Emelin more than once for playing the damned game. That’s the NHL in 2014, though, throw a clean hit and prepare to be punched in the face. Repeatedly.

Aside from those two obvious offenders, the Canadiens are a relatively innocuous bunch. Daniel Briere bothers his opponents by hacking them behind the play and diving occasionally, while Tomas Plekanec’s defence seems to harass opponents into ill-fated trashtalking. Brandon Prust plays a tough game, but he doesn’t seem big enough to hurt anyone.

Really, this hatred thing boils down to the fact that the Canadiens have beaten the Bruins in unlikely circumstances the past couple of seasons, from wicked comebacks to games they clearly should have lost but didn’t while the Bruins resort to whining and smashing people when they can’t beat them within the rules.

Look, the reporters can report on these teams hating each other- somebody ring Pulitzer!- or they can do some real on the ground reportage to find out just how much fans will hate TSN’s commercials by the end of the playoffs. Penelope Cruz selling Nespresso with like six extra e’s? That Scottish guy selling Scott’s lawn turf? Please god just stop.

Let’s just see the puck drop so we can let the players tell the story.