Okay, it's no longer a theory or a cute notion. Jaroslav Halak plays better hockey when he's getting shelled. That's a fact. If he's not getting a lot of work, he gets cold and he thinks too much, which is a recipe for weak goals against. However, when he's simply reacting and the synapses are firing, he's absolutely great and he's got the save percentage to prove it.
I think part of this is because high shot volumes tend to include a lot of rebounds and whacks at the puck in the crease, which Halak is extremely good at handling. He's got quick feet and a good eye for the puck in close. It also helps when the defence forces the other team to shoot from the boards rather than directly from the slot.
The D did a good job today. PK Subban looks like he played the entire year in Montreal. Hamrlik managed to get his head out of his ass, where it spent most of the Washington series, and step up his game once again in Markov's absence. Gorges and Gill were Gorges and Gill. O'Byrne used his body well, even if he didn't get a lot of ice (Martin's retaliation for OB's being part of the five-man frig-up that led to the Pens' goal) and Bergeron...well...he tried really hard and didn't make too many egregious errors. Those six guys, missing two of the season's top-three defencemen, managed to find a way to beat the odds and shut down the Pens superstars.
It's not just the Pens, though. This Montreal team is resilient. It's battling fatigue, sore bodies, a crap schedule, a second terribly tough opponent in a row, crucial injuries and a manpower shortage on the forward lines. It's wonderful to see them fight their way through to a crucial victory, but the question is, how long can they continue to go on this way?
Halak is undoubtedly tired. Kelly Hrudy showed some great tape pre-game to illustrate how Jaro wasn't moving well in Game One, which is a sure sign of goalie fatigue. I thought perhaps Price should have started this game to give Halak a rest, and because Price's physical size would have been a better answer to the kind of game the Pens played on Friday. As it turned out, Halak was the right choice, but not because the Habs adjusted so well. He was the right guy tonight because it was the Penguins who changed THEIR game. Last game, there were Pens in front of the net on every PP. Shooters used their linemates for quick passes to get the Habs moving and then took precise, high shots in those open spaces. They didn't do that tonight. I'm not sure if it was because the Habs were defending better or if the Pens were taking them lightly after their easy win in Game One. Either way, if the Pens keep this up, the Habs have a chance. If they don't...if they go back to their Game One plan...it will be much harder for Montreal.
The Canadiens are what they are from here on out. Subban was their last callup barring catastrophic injury that warrants an emergency, league-approved replacement from Hamilton. Whatever greater heights they can reach have to be inspired from within. That's why guys like Darche and Andrei Kostitsyn (if he ever gets another regular shift) have to step it up. A tired team that's already come off a hugely emotional series just can't continue indefinitely with a fourth line playing less than three minutes a game. Martin's going to have to suck up his dislike of Sergei Kostitsyn and insert him on the fourth line. He's better than Ben Maxwell. Maxwell has no points in the NHL and isn't likely to get any in his next two minutes of icetime. A few people have said the Habs wasted that callup and should have brought in Ryan White instead. I completely agree. The Habs need bottom-line grit, and White brings that in spades. I'm not sure what Maxwell brings, other than his skates to the rink.
In the end, Team Miracle has pulled off the split they wanted in Pittsburgh. Maybe, with the roaring Bell crowd spurring them on, they can do it again on Tuesday. But only if they allow Halak to play in a war zone. After all, how does Bylsma instruct his team to shoot LESS? With Jaro, though, that's what it might take.