You know, I can't even be mad today. Sigh. As frustrating and humiliating as last night's second consecutive shutout at the hands of the wretched Flyers was, the Habs tried. They skated hard and they took lots of shots; two things they didn't do in Game One.
In the end, though, they just didn't have the horses they needed to pull the wagon. Offence, as I've argued before, comes from defence. The Habs can't score because they're crippled on the back end. They don't get much offence from the blueline outside of Andrei Markov in the best of times, and without him, the ability of the defence to move the puck is radically hurt. Hal Gill is playing with heart, but he's obviously in pain and his already limited agility is even more compromised by his injury. Josh Gorges is playing hard too, but he's got his hands full just trying to keep the puck out of his own net, and offence isn't his strong suit. PK Subban's a rookie who's finally looking like a rookie under pressure, and while Hamrlik and Spacek are doing pretty well in their own end, Spacek's playing on the wrong side and neither of them is an offensive force.
Then there's Bergeron. Yeah. Sigh. I actually think I understand what Martin's doing by putting him in the lineup. He sees the same thing I see: that without Markov, the ability of the D as a group to move the puck quickly and jump-start the offence is very limited. O'Byrne certainly brings size and the ability to move bodies out of the crease, but weighing the team's needs right now, puck movement from the blueline is a priority. Bergeron can make a good first pass. Unfortunately, he's a very small, soft defenceman who's being pressured by Flyers who want to hurt him. Under pressure, his first-pass ability disappears. So, while the idea to use him makes a sort of sense, the reality of him on the ice isn't helping. I'm not a big believer in plus/minus as a reliable stat in assessing a player's abilities, but in this case, MAB is the biggest minus in the playoffs for a reason. Without his PP shot, which is also MIA, he's useless.
Without good puck movement from the blueline, the forwards have to carry it more, which gives the positionally-sound Philly defence (the tightest the Habs have yet faced) lots of time to get back and protect the middle of the ice in their own zone. It's no surprise, then, that we've seen so many shots from the perimeter on the Habs' attack. I don't buy the "size is an issue" theory. Briere and Giroux aren't huge guys, but they're gaining the Canadiens' zone because they're catching good passes from their D while moving through the neutral zone. The Habs don't have a comparable full-team attack.
When it comes to play in their own end, the defence worked well against teams that used their huge talent to fire tons of shots at Halak, which the Habs could block. Now it's facing a team that takes lots of shots from three feet outside the crease, and moving those opponents out of there isn't the Canadiens' defence's strong suit. When your D can't move the puck OR the opponent, it eventually comes to pass that the team will lose games.
Last night, the Habs "leadership group" said all the right things. Cammalleri said, "It's just sports and sometimes even when you work hard, you lose." Gionta said, "They kept their home ice, now we'll try to do the same thing." Gomez said nobody's panicking and the series is far from over. It's good to hear them try to stay positive, and I think their heart and determination will help them win a game in this series. Whether they can do more than that is in much greater doubt, largely because their defence isn't as good as the one they're facing.
It would help them win if they could stay out of the penalty box (I'm talking to you, Gomez!) and if they could get their sticks on a rebound or two. A bit of luck would help, since they've had exactly none since the Pens went home. I think the writing's on the wall, though, and the magic is over. Last night, the forwards did what they could to maintain pressure in the Philly zone, and they did well. Everybody worked hard. But sometimes, when a team doesn't have the horses, the bandwagon grinds to a halt. Unfortunately for the Canadiens, Andrei Markov is the only thoroughbred they've got on the blueline, and he's not going to be around to pull.