Sunday, May 9, 2010

Aftermath: The Old College Try

Whatever the ultimate outcome of this series, I think we can all agree the Habs have nothing of which to be ashamed. Every single man on that team gave what he could to the cause last night and the team, as a whole, can't be faulted for coming up short.

The differences in the last five games have been the Penguins powerplay and good health, and the Habs' general lack of finish. One game of Jordan Staal missing isn't quite the same as missing Markov and Spacek, yet the Habs have held the Pens to a series of very tight games. That's remarkable, considering the skill the Penguins can call upon. That skill, though, is why they're able to capitalize on the PP. They load up their big point shots in Gonchar and Letang and surround them with the skills of Crosby and Malkin with Guerin standing in front of the net. That's a lethal combo at even strength, and extremely hard to contain shorthanded, especially if it happens to be one of your top PKers in the box. We've seen them score extremely detrimental PP goals with Gill, and last night, Gorges serving penalties.

The Habs, on the other hand, keenly feel the loss of Markov in setting up their PP. Subban is helping, but he's not Markov...yet. Without a comparable special-teams weapon, the Habs are getting killed by the Pens PP, which has been instrumental in their three wins. Still, despite that, they're hanging in there and scrounging up their goals at even strength.

The problem is, there aren't enough of them. The team's getting chances, but not cashing them. That's mainly because they're not driving the net hard. They're making some nice o-zone passing plays and taking a good shot. If Fleury stops it, there's nobody there to jump on the rebound. Game Four was won because guys like Darche and Lapierre were harrying Fleury and taking him out of his comfortable headspace. They did that a little bit last night, but not often enough. This is not a size issue. Gionta's the smallest man in the league, but he's always in the crease. It's an instinct issue, and there aren't enough Habs whose internal GPS's direct them to the blue paint.

I hear a lot about Plekanec not scoring, but for me, he gets a pass for his stellar defensive work on Crosby. The whiny baby isn't scoring either, and a lot of that has to do with the way Pleks is playing him. What concerns me is the lack of production from other guys who aren't being asked to shut down one of the trickiest hockey players on the planet. Andrei Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot, aside from maintaining some basic defensive awareness, aren't asked to do anything but go to the net and score. They're not doing that, and that's what the Habs are missing. Cammalleri and Gionta have been doing their share. Pleks has other duties. Gomez is the playmaker. Those guys are doing what they're supposed to do, but the finishers on the top-two lines are not.

It's easy to pick apart the third and fourth liners for not doing more as well. I'm not going to do that because I think they have nothing left to give. Pyatt, Lapierre, Darche, Moen, Metro and Moore have all been playing as well as I think they're able to play and if they make mistakes, it's because they are third and fourth-line players. They're playing their hearts out within their abilites. Really, they're contributing just as much as the third and fourth lines of the Pens.

Team Adversity has been beating the odds all year just to get where it is right now. It's not helping that injuries have come back to haunt them when it really matters, but these players deserve a great deal of credit for battling through it anyway. I hope they have another bit of magic left for tomorrow night because if there's such a thing as "deserving" to win a hockey game, these guys deserve it.


Anonymous said...

Jt another great post but I disagree about Pleks pass. This guy has to deliver. Notwithstanding he is shutting down Crosby , if a guy is chosen to go head to head with a premier player he has to produce! Bottom line!

If this guy wants to command the large $$ then he has to be productive consistently!

Pouliot and AK need to do more too. Ak may be a a lost cause. But for Martin to lose confidence in Pouliot at such an early juncture does not bode well. I can see it with Andre and his underachieving ass but Pouliot needs some coddling.

Anonymous said...

Pleks has one point more than the 8 million dollar man while shutting down Ovi and Crosby and getting second unit time on the PP. If the Habs falter to blame Pleks is silly.

NorCalVol said...

Great post - this kind of post is why I started reading your blog.

The lack of finishing prowess is what I have thought too - good finishing is a sign of a very good soccer team as well as a hockey club.

You are also right about the third and fourth liners - their work ethic is allowing them to swing above their weight in the playoffs.

We're 2-3 at home this post season and 4-3 on the road. The road record, considering the opposition, is astounding. Just think - to win this series, the Habs will have to go 3-3 at home and 5-3 on the road. That would be the story of the playoffs. But lose game six, the Habs would move to a lousy 2-4 at home, unable to take care of business at the friendly confines. That would be something that will stick in the craw in the offseason.

Game 6 - Just win, baby, and then let the chips fall where they may in Game 7. That would be worthy of a salute, winning or losing the series. A loss in Game 6 would be a major disappointment, no matter the heart shown and the results recorded so far.