Thursday, April 29, 2010

Habs Notebook: Taking On the Pens Edition

I like that the Habs aren't flipping out about beating the Caps. They celebrated their victory on the ice, but they've been all business with the media ever since. They're not satisfied and they really believe they can do more in these playoffs. That's such a refreshing attitude for a Habs team, it's making me believe in them too. They're looking forward to tomorrow night and by now are already deep in preparation for the defending champs. A few notes as we wait:

-Kris Letang told RDS he thinks after the Caps upset, the Habs are now the favourite in the series versus the Pens. Obviously, that's total crap. The Habs are the lower seed, barely made the playoffs and have nowhere near the star power of the Pens. The Penguins are the defending champions. I just wonder why Letang said it. Is he trying to put pressure on the Habs? Is he actually feeling some nerves, or was it a gesture of goodwill to show some respect to the opponent? Either way, I thought it was an odd thing to say, considering the unquestionable falseness of the statment.

-I'm a bit concerned about the number of shots the Habs blocked in Round One. There were 182 of them, to be exact, and 31 by Hal Gill alone. Those things hurt, and with Round Two starting so quickly, there's no time for the bruises to heal. Bruises on top of bruises are going to hurt even more, and will push the guys' dedication to the limit. On the plus side, though, the number of shots they blocked is proof the dedication is there to begin with. As Mike Keenan said on TSN tonight, "It's a culture of your group and shows how committed you are to that game or that series." The Habs proved they're willing to sacrifice...a advance in the playoffs.

-I'm also a little worried about Halak. He looked tired at the end of the regular season, and in Game Two of the Caps series. When Price got a start and gave Halak a few days off, he came roaring back to take the last three games of the series in spectacular fashion. In light of the workload Halak's handled this week, there's a risk of exhaustion on his part. On one hand, I think maybe he should just ride the wave as long as he can. On the other, I think perhaps he should go in Game One and, if the Habs win, maybe the coaches should start Price in Game Two to give Halak a breather. If the Habs lose, however, all bets are off and you ride that pony until he drops in the traces.

-Strategy will have to change against Pittsburgh. In terms of the superstars, Crosby is by far the more dangerous player. Ovechkin does everything one way: by brute force. He hits, skates and shoots at top speed all the time. That's effective in the regular season because teams don't have time to develop a strategy just to deal with him. The Habs had time to do it, and as you probably saw in the replays, Ovechkin looked like he had one approach to the offensive zone. He barrelled down the wing and cut to the middle for the shot. The Habs defencemen were able to either ride him off on the boards, or block his cut to the slot. On every Caps rush, the backchecking centreman and one defenceman converged on Ovechkin right at the blueline. Sometimes, it was even as simple as poke-checking him. Failing that, Halak was ready for his shot. Crosby's a different cat altogether. He proved this year he can score tons of goals. The problem is that, unlike Ovechkin, if you try to keep him from shooting, he'll kill you with a pass to the open guy you're not watching because you're guarding against Crosby. Crosby uses his teammates like Ovechkin doesn't. The other difference between him and Ovechkin is Crosby has incredible vision and never, ever quits on a play. When you think you've got him down on his ass, he'll reach out and flip the puck to a guy you didn't even see coming. Crosby's much trickier than Ovechkin, and the Habs' D, which excells at blocking shots, isn't as good in dealing with shifty guys who wait you out before they shoot.

-The supporting casts of Washington and Pittsburgh aren't terribly different, in my opinion. Sure, the Pens have Malkin, but I thought Backstrom was just as dangerous a player in the Caps series. The various top-line wingers and third and fourth lines aren't that different. I think the Habs can compete.

-On a personal level, I'm wondering if I should change superstitions for the Pens series. In the last three games agains the Caps, I wore my Pleky shirt and had one German beer in the second period. I'll try it in Game One and see what happens. What do you all do to get ready for games?

-I'm curious to see how the reffing plays out in this series. With the retirements of several good, experienced officials in the last couple of years, we're starting to see the playoff debuts of very, very iffy refs like Chris Lee and Tim Peel. I give full credit to the refs in Game Seven for calling a fair, reasonable game. I'm not sure that will continue with the defending champs involved. There's a PhD paper out there that proves statistically that refs tend to favour the home team and/or the higher-ranked team. I don't necessarily buy into league conspiracies, but, on the other hand, we've all seen Crosby et al. benefit from some very questionable calls.

-The biggest advantage the Habs may have is in goal. Not because Halak is so great, which he undoubtedly has been, but because Fleury has sucked. He looked horrible against Ottawa. Long shots beat him over his glove, pucks he thought he had stopped trickled through his five-hole and his adjustment on tips and deflections was non-existant. He can also be counted on to mishandle the puck outside his crease when under forechecking pressure. It's not just these playoffs either. He's allowed three-and-a-half goals a game against the Habs through his career. Our guys have to take advantage of that and shoot way more often than they did against the Caps.

-I think the schedule is tricky. The Pens have had several days' rest now. The Habs are coming straight out of a seven-game series. This could work two ways in Game One. It could let the rested, healed Pens team crunch the Habs, or it could mean the Habs are riding the incredible wave of adrenaline and purpose they're riding since beating the Caps. Either way, the schedule has to play in the Pens favour long-term, which means any win the Habs can grab early is that much more important.

-One thing I'm dreading in this series is "Sid." Not Crosby himself, mind you, but the overly-familiar announcers who refer to Crosby as casually as they would a younger brother. The NBC crew, in particular, loves to say "Sid with a fabulous pass," or "Sid brilliant on the two-on-one." I hate that. If you're calling "Malkin," "Cammalleri," "Halak," "Staal," and "Markov," then call "Crosby" as well, for God's sake.

-I'm finding it easier to dismiss all the negative, go-with-the-numbers predictions this time around. Everyone in the world called Caps in Round One. Now they're calling Pens. That's normal. They're hedging their bets because the Pens, Letang's pronouncement notwithstanding, are the favourites. But we Habs fans know when something special kicks in in Montreal, strange things happen. I'm going to hold off on predictions this time.

-One thing I'm wondering is if some enterprising person from the Dairy Producers of Canada will snag Jaro for a chocolate milk ad. If they don't, they're missing a golden opportunity.

-Intangibles are always hugely important in the playoffs. In terms of experience, the Pens have a Cup under their belt. So do the Habs leaders, Gionta, Gomez, Moen and Gill. Crosby's intangible is his history as a Habs fan. He would love more than anything to beat the Canadiens, especially in the Bell where he's been booed, so he'll push extra-hard. On the flip side, the Habs have an intangible in Gill, who spent a lot of time practicing against Crosby and watching him up close. He knows how to shut the Penguins captain down. Whether he can do it is another story. Desire is also in the balance. The Pens have already been to two consecutive finals and won a Cup. A lot of guys start to think maybe they've met their goals after that, and don't want to sacrifice again. Plus, two straight years of hockey until June can mentally wear down a lot of players. Crosby, no, but others, perhaps. Maybe the Habs are hungrier. The ultimate intangible, however, is team unity. The Habs have come through a crucible of adversity. That makes guys pull together like nothing else. They've also got a David complex now, after beating Washington, and will be willing to do whatever it takes to pull it off again. It'll be interesting to see which group's desires win out.


punkster said...

You can analyze this puppy to death, go through all the variables in your head, get yourself overly excited at the prospect of success or occupy your sleepless nights with worry and dread over what may befall the team. Or you can perform your game time rituals and enjoy the journey.
Cold Boreale Rousse poured and ready- check
Laptop logged on to favorite blog - check
Dog snoozing comfortably at my side - check
I'm ready!

Anonymous said...

Just dreaming but wouldn't you love a Habs Bruins Conference final?

Rookie said...

As usual, you hit the nail on the head, especially about Jaro's potential for exhaustion and the team in general playing injured and bruised. A sports reporter for CJAD said he saw an awful lot of scuffs and bruises in the locker room after game 7. It doesn't surprise me, considering the kind of season they've had, but so far they've been playing through the injuries and hopefully can continue to do so.

I love reading about others' superstitions! I put my Gionta shirt in the wash after a couple of losses since it seemed to be bad luck. I never, ever go near the drawer containing my unlucky Gorges shirt on game days. I'll look at it this summer, when there are no games on the line. And lately I've been decorating cupcakes in anticipation for games and eating them before or during a game - so far that's worked out pretty well.

Unknown said...

My superstitions. No Habs merch on game day- I don't even look at it. Only thing I am allowed is a small sticker on my bike. Also, no Molson products, at all, during the playoffs. And I only watch the game if I can watch the whole thing- I NEVER come in late.

Anonymous said...

What I do to get ready for the game:

1)I make sure that all chores are done around the house so that I have full concentration and attention on the game. (I have two young boys).

2)Then I record the game so that if the roof caves in, I can watch the game later.

3) I double check about three times during the day to be certain that I really did hit the record button.

5) Check to see if husband bought any beer, if so put it in the fridge so it's nice and cool (I don't even drink that much but with the series I've started to...not good.)

4) Plan dinner so I don't have to think about what to make during the game. (out here on the left coast, games are at 4pm)

5) When the boys get home from school, it's homework pronto! Piano lessons pronto! Get in your pj's pronto!

6) Put on my Canadiens red jersey that husband bought me for Christmas (along with 4 tickets to see Montreal play the San Jose Sharks for March 4th game!!!)

7) Do a lot of pacing around and convince myself that we're going to loose so the blow isn't so bad. Kinda like what I do with lottery tickets.

8) Check time through out the day and wonder what the Habs are doing. Did they sleep in? Having a power lunch? Running on the treadmill? What if Gill gets stuck in traffic??

9) Call my Mom and tell her I'm so nervous only to hear her say, don't worry, we're going to win. Continue to tell her that I don't think I have the stomach to watch the game, that maybe I'll stay in my bedroom for this one and let the kids shout out to me when someone scores.

10) Dinner's ready...let the kids eat in the living room in front of the tv which I adamantly never would let them, Mom has gone completely nuts.

11) Hear "Are you reeeaaaddddyyy?...puck drops at face off and I crack open my first beer.

I was thinking of how the Habs can win. All they need to say to themselves (convincingly) is, we are not trying to win the Stanley Cup we are trying to PREVENT this team (yesterday the Caps and tomorrow the Pens) from advancing to the next round. I really think that will work. That will keep them in the underdog mode with the attitude of "We have nothing to lose".

Mandy88 said...

Was Kris Letang trying to use diversionary tactics? Reverse jinx? Sheesh. I don't think Halak is tired, the rest in Game 3 did him well. I think he's just hitting his stride. I think the guys know they can't just block 41 shots every game and they have to score more. On Fleury, shouldn't be a problem. Reffing will be interesting, agreed. I also hate the scheduling, really worried fatigue hasn't set in yet and bruises have started to heal. They didn't practice today, so hopefully they got enough rest.
Lol about the chocolate milk ad...that would be fantastic! Has anyone told Allan Walsh??
Don't you love the way they're playing as a cohesive, tight-knit team? Love it.
Your diary on game day was hilarious and perfect. Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

How hasn't it been said yet....Fleury is Quebec born and grew up a Habs fan....we're screwed.

Hard-work, dedication, sacrifice and commitment. Hope the Habs keep it going. Block shots, and win the battles (Even you Andrei K.).

Proud of the work ethic in the first round! Hoping for another great series of exciting hockey.

Go Habs Go!

Christopher Sama said...

Do you think tonight's ref - Chris Lee - has read that dissertation?

Sometimes I'm not sure if he's even read the NHL rulebook.

I'm gonna give the Pens 3 goals due to bad calls for this series.

V said...

Has anyone seen pfhabs lately?

Way too much respect being shown to the Habs in the last few days - especially Martin and Gainey. I was hoping he could tone things down with his view of 'reality' and some reminders about why the team sucks, won't make the playoffs and are screwed for the next 5 years unless everyone in management is fired.

I've been on all the key blogs for the last few days but no one has seen or heard from him since the losing streak at the end of the season.

Hope he's OK.

Habs_Resurgence said...

I take my 5 Habs jerseys (Gionta, Cammy, Price, Markov, and the honourary Koivu), and spread them over the back of our two couches, numbers showing of course. I've discovered it's bad luck to wear them, and this way when I look around I feel like I'm on the Habs bench. I keep my dog close by for good luck, and tell my girlfriend to never, I repeat to me while the puck is in the Habs zone. I apologize to all the Habs fans out there this year, as she was solely responsible for 5 goals scored against us this season.

I think if we can stay relatively healthy we have a great shot. This team is looking like a prototypical Cup contender. We have heart, we have some talent, we have guys willing to make sacrifices, and we have a red-hot goalie. Pens will be tough because they have all those things as well (minus the goaltending right now, but we all know Fleury is capable).

NorCalVol said...

What do I do to get ready for games?
I simply get out my Habs jersey, bought in Montreal in 1983 or '84, and drape the jersey on a bannister in my home.
At timeouts, I look at the CH (it was smaller back in those days) and think about the history.
It is why the habs eliminated the Caps - I'm sure of it!

Anonymous said...

It occurs to me that our Habs look like the Devils. If they can sustain the defensive effort and great goaltending the Habs may go a long way.

Anonymous said...

Getting is chilling, house is clean...

Anonymous said...

Interesting the "Sid" thing. I don't remember anyone ever reporting that "Wayne's in his office" in the Gretzky years!

MC said...

I understand your difficulty making a prediction I'm this series because the teams are so similar. Good goaltending, team play with structure and dangerous forwards who can score when the opportunity comes. My take on this series that Montreal has the advantage on D and in net which is huge. Pittsburgh has the advantage with the star power of Malkin and Crosby, and the Habs can only use Gill and Gorges against one of them. Pittsburgh has the advantage at centre but I like Montreal's wingers better. Overall, Crosby absolutely destroyed Ottawa. If the Habs can't find a way to contain him, it will be a short series. If they do, then I think Montreal's balanced attack and superior D and goaltending will prevail. games.