When Don Cherry is the voice of reason — he didn’t think Subban should have been suspended — you know that the show has gone off the rails. Unless Romanuk and York have stock in some sort of miracle micro-fracture treatment maybe they could just go ahead and defer to Dr. Recchi on this one, and thankfully he has not yet felt it necessary to weigh in. This is a national broadcaster — THE national broadcaster — for the Stanley Cup playoffs in a country that eats, breathes, sleeps and obsesses about this sport. In the playoffs you guys need to up your game too, not reduce yourselves to TMZ On Ice during gameplay.
There were an awful lot of early exits projected for the Montreal Canadiens by both fans and panelists alike once the Ottawa Senators drew in as their first post-season opponent. Even though we are only two games into the 2015 NHL Playoffs, it’s worth taking a look at what this series has revealed so far.
I’ll admit to having had my pre-conceptions rearranged now that the Habs are holding a 2-0 series lead and the Sens are facing an uphill battle, needing to win the next 4 out of 5. Here are some reasons why, as well as some random food for thought.
Not A One Man ShowThe Habs are a formidable team even without Max Pacioretty, PK Subban and a Not-In-God-Mode-Yet Carey Price. With Pacioretty out the first game, Subban ejected for slashing Mark Stone, and Price looking merely solid instead of invincible, the fourth line somehow managed to morph into a top line, much to my chagrin. Torrey Mitchell AND Brian Flynn both scored goals, with Flynn eventually being made first star. Team chemistry, that special brotherhood that makes players fight constantly to step up for each other, is consistently underrated as a playoff advantage and this team has it. Also the Habs have had a lot of post-season experience the past few years and that shows too. Right now they are looking like the better team, outright dominating for long stretches. Following the Game 2 overtime victory Price stated that he didn’t think anyone in the room had panicked and I believe it.
Hamburglar On The MenuAndrew Hammond is a very good goaltender and there are times he outright stonewalls the Canadiens’ forwards, but he is still wet behind the ears and has long stretches where he looks shaky and not at all confident. This is his first post-season show and that is a lot of weight for him to carry after hauling his team almost single-handedly into the playoffs. Had the Stone / Subban drama not overshadowed everything else perhaps more would admit that up until quite recently he has been little more than a mediocre AHL goalie, a fact quite evident throughout Game 1. Meanwhile there’s little doubt that beyond elevating Price to a new level, Stephane Waite has also been watching endless tape looking for holes for the Habs skaters to exploit, which they have. There’s a reason the Chicago Blackhawks’ fans griped when Marc Bergevin took Waite away from Corey Crawford and this is why. A good goaltending coach is necessary, but a great one is a linchpin.
Leave The Drama On BroadwayPrior to Game 2 there was an awful lot of Days of our Lives Soap Opera Drama going on between the two teams, their respective fan bases, and most especially the media. A slash is a slash and deserves a penalty, and I get the rule infraction that necessitated the ejection, but if people are going to suggest that a player get supplemental discipline for an injury then maybe there should be an actual injury. Once warmups ended, Mark Stone didn’t just look fine, he played fine, good enough to lead all forwards in ice time through the first period. He finished the night with two assists and logged 18:40 in ice time. Yes, the Senators tried to get PK Subban suspended. It’s a solid strategy and you can’t blame them for trying. What you CAN blame them for is continuing to milk it right up until puck drop. At least show some dignity when your master plan fails. I have no doubt it hurts. I just have no ability whatsoever to sympathize with bullshit. Just play hockey.
Objectivity Means Nothing AnymoreSpeaking of just playing hockey, the Ottawa Sun, Chris Neil, the Hockey Night in Canada panelists, the Senators own coach and GM, and absolutely everyone who had access to a microphone seemed to want the Sens to goon it up in Game 2 to retaliate against PK for the non-broken wrist. Off ice if it gets into Montreal’s head then it’s good strategy and excellent for ratings and website hits. On ice it’s suicide and will buy the Senators an early exit. The Habs don’t play that game anymore. They just don’t. On the occasions during the regular season when Montreal has gotten away from their own strategy and lost, they corrected it quite quickly. This is not the easily rattled team that Ottawa bounced after the injury to Lars Eller two years ago. And props to the Senators who realized that it just wasn’t going to work this time and didn’t become so consumed by thoughts of retaliation that they forgot about just playing hard and trying to win.
Blown WAY Out Of ProportionWhile I am touching on the media, I really want to know what the hell HNIC thought it was doing during gameplay last night. I tried to watch an NHL playoff game but it kept getting interrupted by Breaking News in the form of medical updates on Mark Stone’s wrist. At one point Stone was just fixing his glove – HIS GLOVE – and this necessitated a two minute exchange (there had already been at least a half dozen prior to that) about the condition of his wrist and how Paul Romanuk and Jason York had suffered similar injuries in the past and how much it hurt and shouldn’t be overlooked as affecting his play and helping to decide this series and so on ad nauseum. By that point Stone had already earned one of his assists and no one was buying it anymore, not even some of the Senators own fans.
Habs Need To Find The JugularWhile the Habs did go 1 for 6 on the power play, the fact is had they lost in overtime there would be a lot more focus on missed opportunities. During Montreal’s first two power plays in the third period there was a glaring lack of urgency and hunger, especially when contrasted with the second period power play which saw Pacioretty tie the game. Yes they were up a goal, but this is not the regular season and they can’t take their foot off the gas and just assume Price will bail them out. The Canadiens have lacked a killer instinct for far too long. If they keep passing on these golden chances and let up it’s going to cost them dearly in the post-season. After watching them go through this all season, why haven’t they learned this vital lesson yet? Instead the power play became a momentum killer, and this is playing with some serious fire during the playoffs.
History Will Always MatterOutside of Montreal it is hard to explain how incredibly the team’s history still impacts its present and future. After PK Subban got bounced from Game 1, it was Élise Béliveau who calmed the Habs’ best blueliner. The recent, heartfelt losses of Jean Béliveau and Elmer Lach are also fresh and carry weight with not just the fans, but the players themselves. Teams without that sort of history can and do win the Cup all the time but once again, these are the little things that can and do factor into a post-season performance without ever appearing on any scorecard.
So what do you think of the series so far? Is it what about you expected?