Sunday, April 3, 2011

Aftermath: Hold On a Second

Well, it's really nice to see Habs fans a happier bunch this Sunday than last. And it's extra nice that the reason for today's giddiness is the elimination of the Devils from playoff contention by losing decisively to the Canadiens in their own rink. It's kind of emblematic, though, of how most fans watch a game and see only their own team.

The Canadiens won because they did a lot of things right. They skated hard and backchecked conscientiously. Mathieu Darche was the poster child for going to the net with your stick on the ice. P.K.Subban was brilliant in his puck handling and first pass. He also made a couple of very timely shot blocks that helped avoid trouble. Tomas Plekanec was brilliant on faceoffs and showed promising signs of getting his legs back. Brian Gionta drove the net, Mike Cammalleri shot everything that moved and Carey Price had his most solid road game in ages. Overall, the team was disciplined and didn't resort to the half-dozen boneheaded penalties the players take on a bad night. All of this was balm for the battered Habs-fan psyche.

Now fans, while you're wallowing in delight at a good performance, stop and think back for a minute. Think about the Devils and how they played. Right. The Devils last night were last Saturday's Canadiens. They were the ones taking the penalties and getting to the puck second. They barely pressured the Canadiens defence, and even Hal Gill had time to move the puck. Sopel and Mara, well, they looked like the third pair they are, but the Devils didn't really take advantage. Carey Price saw most of the shots against him and there were few second opportunities, other than when Price himself dropped the puck. The Devils looked like a team that just had nothing left to give after their amazing post-All Star race for the playoffs. The only goal they scored came when Gill got caught out of position and everyone else kind of chased Kovalchuk around the net. They were the team that could come up with only 21 shots in a game they needed to win to stay alive.

So when you put things in perspective, the Canadiens certainly played a strong road game and were full value for the win, but their opponent just wasn't very competitive. If the Devils had played a Bruins or Flyers-like heavy forecheck and really harassed the Mopel pairing, the Canadiens might not have gotten off so easily. If the Jersey D could have held the puck in at the blueline while the forwards were pressing, there might have been a different, or much closer, result. As it turned out, the Devils were completely flat and the Canadiens came at them with discipline and resolve. This doesn't mean the Habs' weaknesses are all gone.

I'm not trying to be a downer here, but until the Canadiens start getting some injured players back, they don't have the resources they need to compete against a good team that really wants to win. So, let's enjoy the day and the win over the hated Devils, but let's keep our hopes and expectations to reasonable levels. Of course, in the playoffs, anything can happen. We just can't expect it to, even after a good game against a fading opponent.


Jay in PA said...

Certainly, we are not a team that looks like it will go beyond the first round. Aside from not having the horses up front, Carey Price is tired--after the win last night, he looked drained, not happy. Auld may not be Bunny Larocque (or Brian Hayward, or even Jeff Hackett), but playing Carey 70+ games in a season is crazy. My hope is that we pick up our crucial point against Chicago to clinch the playoffs, and Auld gives Carey a couple of games of rest before the season runs out.

With that said, maybe Myax Pacioretty comes back and provides a spark in the offseason. Maybe a rested Jaro Spacek solidifies the D. Maybe Scott Gomez consults an exorcist (or a witch doctor) and lifts the curse. Maybe there's hope for a team that has two years of experience in a system that (along with otherworldly goaltending) bought them a deep run last year. But a lot of maybes that have to come together for us to have a chance means... Maybe not this year.

dusty said...

Hopes and expectations at a reasonable level translates into making the playoffs and having at least three home games for Molson to grab some cash. But looking at the teams in the east, the only really good team that wants to win is Philadelphia. With Pronger back they are all set to return to the Cup finals. Washington, on the other hand, has goalie problems and their defence is not world class. Expect a lot of F bombs from Brucey. Moving on, any team that deals for Kaberle can't be considered serious. The Bruins win one round at most. If they face the Canes I'll take Carolina. Pittsburgh without Crosby and Malken won't go far. Tampa could be scary but seem to have lost their mojo. The Rangers and Buffalo are doing it with mirrors. Carolina looks very good to me and if they make it I think they will make a solid run. Cam Ward and Staal are awesome and Cole is back to what he was before the neck injury.

So, that said, the Habs could be out embarassingly early or if they can sneak past the first round who knows?

JF said...

Nice balanced post, J.T., to keep the euphoria in check. Yes, the Habs played a great game against a tired opponent, but realistically we can't expect a deep run this year. I hope we can clinch a spot with our next game and rest Price; he looks very tired lately, and I'm sure he's lost weight. His face is thinner.

As for getting bodies back, I hope only Spacek comes back. I know Patches is skating, but I think it would be better for him and for the team long-term that he not come back until September. But if Cammalleri and Plekanec are getting back into form (both looked good yesterday) and if Gomez can play at the level he did last night and against Atlanta, we could still do some damage.

Anonymous said...

almost 1,000,000 views on your profile JT!