Sunday, April 17, 2011

Aftermath: Control

It's funny, when pundits build up a series, they usually look at inexperience as a detriment to a team's chances. Yet, when the Canadiens hit the ice last night with four players who'd never played a minute of NHL post-season hockey before Thursday, they didn't look green. Ryan White, Lars Eller, David Desharnais and Yannick Weber looked ready and like they knew exactly how playoff hockey is suppopsed to be played. Rather than being a drag on the team, they were its spark.

In this, credit must go to Jacques Martin. While he spent the season nailing rookies to the bench after a single mistake, now, when it counts, he's putting his trust in them. The Cammalleri and Darche goals and the great saves by Carey Price were the most important difference-makers in last night's game. Two moments outside those, however, really underlined the depth of support on the team.

The first was after a particularly nasty sequence which, in an ordinary game, would call for some sort of retaliation. White was about to explode and pick a fight, but Martin reeled him in, and the camera caught the coach with his arms around the kid, talking him down. White went out and channelled his anger into forechecking like a man possessed.

The second moment saw Eller, who'd been tough on the boards all game, holding off four Bruins as the Habs maintained their control and two-goal lead late in the third. This is a kid who's accepted that he's going to have to spend time learning the pro game and has taken his lumps with good grace. He's going to be a good offensive player someday, but his job right now is to be the third-line support centreman and check the daylights out of the other team. He's doing an excellent job of it, too.

Honourable mention for a defining moment was Yannick Weber, playing up as a third-line checker, leaping on Eller's rebound for the insurance goal that broke Bruins fans hearts.

The Canadiens are doing what they're supposed to be doing. They're using their speed to advantage, exercising discipline and doing a good job killing off the penalties they do take. They're blocking shots and getting between the Bruins and the goal. Price is seeing just about everything, and making the saves when it counts. His puck handling is helping the defence compensate for a general lack of quickness. Everybody's going the extra distance to get to loose pucks first and pushing a bit harder to win the battles. These were all things we knew they could do if they tried.

What we didn't know was how the kids would respond to the need to play that faster, more disciplined, self-sacrificing style that wins playoff games. That's why inexperience is so often a liability in the assessment of a team's chances. We know a little bit now about what we can expect from the young guys. We know they respect their teammates who've been there before, and they're following the example of guys like Gionta, Gill, Gomez, Moen and Sopel. We know the kids can make a positive difference, which is vital if the Canadiens are to achieve any level of post-season success. Whatever happens in this post-season, the experience these young players are getting and the lessons they're learning about how to win when it counts will be really important when they're the ones leading the playoff drive.


Anvilcloud said...

I have to chuckle that the first green guy you mentioned is White.

dusty said...

I have been critical of Gainey and Gauthier for some of the deals and choices they have made. It's time for me to admit I haven't got a clue and just enjoy the ride. Price is indeed a thoroughbred and above all a winner as is Subban. Throughout their brief careers they have done nothing but win and obviously Gainey and Gauthier have made some excellent decisions.

If I was a Bruin fan I would be tearing Chiarelli a new one for stocking my team with losers. He adds players from great organizations like the leafs, Panthers, Thrashers and the Senators. They bring nothing to the team and seeing emotionless Kaberle and a confused Horton skating around doing nothing much is fun to watch. Horton has no clue about playoff hockey and Kaberle doesn't seem to care.

As you correctly point out, the Hab veterans are leaders and team players though they may lack high end talent. Players like Darche diving all over the place to clear pucks and disrupt passes is priceless. Haven't seen one Bruin do that. Julien is forced to use Thornton late in games because he at least has earned his way to the NHL unlike some of the others who seem to feel entitled to advance without doing the work.

The series isn't over until you win 4 but the Habs look awfully good.

Thanks JT for another fine post.

Hansolo said...

Well said, JT, it was a pleasure to see the kids play well. And what happened to dour, aloof Jacques Martin, the one who ruins kids? He actually talked to a player (a kid, no less!) on the bench and behaved like a father would. I guess I've misjudged JM -- he really DOES know what he's doing, but must care very little about explaining it to non-cognoscenti like me.

I know the series isn't over (as PK pointed out so well). Nonetheless the coaches (whom I was ready to dismiss as doofuses -- well, ok, not Muller) have done a wonderful job preparing the team for Boston. The team have shown more heart than I ever believed them capable of. Cammy blocking shots! Gomez actually seeming to care! Pleks back to his form at season's beginning! I'm ready to eat as many words and as much humble pie (crow) as is necessary. Go Habs Go!

Anonymous said...

How can you not like the way this team is sticking together? I mean Moen, Pyatt, Darche, Eller and Weber in front...this is not supposed to be a AHL team! With heart and team work you can achieve everything. What a lesson we are seeing here friends. Enjoy the ride. We have to win the next game!!!!

Go Habs go


V said...

Glad to see Martin getting his due here. Lots of hockey to be played, but what he has accomplished over two trying seasons has been impressive.

Whatever transpires over the next few weeks should not take away from that.

In addition, to a man the team is focused and grounded. I suspect you won't see a celebration until/unless they win 14 more games this spring.

Paul B. said...

I'll never understand why thre media bother talking to J.M. after the games. He gives the most boring interviews in the history of interviews. He's worst that Vigneault, Therrien and even Patapouf Julien put together.

However, considering the 2009/2010 playoffs, the 2010/2011 season with all the injuries to key players and the first two games against the ruinsm, he must be doing something right, as much as I hate to admit it.

Selling his game plan to a mix of semi star players (Gomez, Gionta Cammy and a few others) and not so star players (Pyatt, Moen, Sopel, Gill and many others) is an exploit that deserves to be mentioned.