Welcome back! Hope everyone had a great weekend, since we last spoke the Habs have gone 1-1 despite outscoring their opponent 5-1. Bo Horvat is playing for keeps, Tukka opts out, Svechnikov take a very unfortunate tumble and Jack Edwards is a piece of shit. It’s been a great weekend of hockey, we got two teams already up against the ropes, so let’s get into it!
I touched on this on Friday, but well wished to Claude. He has since had a stent procedure and has returned home to be with his family in Montreal. Just like any other head coach he stays involved through text and call I am sure, but despite his absence he has prepared the Canadiens for battle. Kirk Muller stepped in on Friday evening and made his arrival behind the bench known with a 5-0 win in Game 2! He and the team followed that up with a hard fought 1-0 lose where the boys failed to give Carey any goal support on his birthday. Looking back at these two games, here are 5 observations as we head into Games 4 and on.
1. In-Game Line Adjustments
This started back in Game 3 against the Penguins when the Habs were down 3-1 before coming back and winning 4-3. Claude deserves a lot of recognition here as much as Muller does. The two of them have clearly had their finger square on the team’s pulse and their in-game management has been on point. Just like in Game 3, shuffling the deck in Game 2 against the Flyers produced results, Max Domi was finally taking off the 4th line to put up 3 assists. I would love to say I told you so but I can’t, a lot of people knew this had to happen.
To me the bigger and the more impactful change was at the top where Suzuki finds himself between Tatar and Gally. Danault by no means was demoted, but this was a strategic move to keep the Flyers top line off the score sheet. Skating between Byron and Lehkonen to form the Habs top shut down line, Danault as usual, has quietly been one of the best player’s in this series. I love the matchup vs G, Vorachek and Couturier, they are the only line for the Flyers that consistently generates offense off the rush. Danault, Byron and Lehkonen have both the speed and defensive prowess to clog up the middle, and force the opposing line into uncomfortable situations. This was the Habs lineup for Game 3, let’s see if Muller stands pat, because I think the goals are coming.
2. The Young Guns
Watching Suzuki and Kotkaniemi step up to play big time minutes in the playoffs is an absolute thrill. First starting with Suzuki, do you think Vegas would swap him for Glass if they could go back? I would think probably not but it’s a fun homer hypothetical to play to self validate how good Suzuki is. Fun hypothetical number two, does Suzuki have a playoff evolution form like Carey Price? This should come as no surprise because a little over a year ago Suzuki led the charge offensively for Guelph in the OHL playoffs putting up 42 points ranking eighth all-time, tied with Montreal native Cory Pecker.
Kotkaniemi on the other hand had an up and down season and it is amazing to see him finishing his season strong. KK was sent down to the AHL earlier in the season to get his game right and he took the challenge to heart. The hype around Kotkaniemi started immediately when he got back to camp for the Return to Play, he looks bigger, faster and he somehow matured an extra nine years. When rookies come into the league, I hold off judgement until their first real test of adversity. For KK that was this year because in his rookie year, outside of hitting the Rookie Wall, he was phenomenal and everything went right. I want to see how a rookie handles adversity, how they face or challenge it because it is easy to look good when everything is going right. Well hurdle #1 for KK, check.
3. The Trident
I have mentioned this trio on multiple occasions when it comes to the Canadiens playoff success and I will continue to do so. Between the three of them they average nearly 25 minutes of ice time per game and shoulder pretty much the entire load on defense for this team. Just to put this in perspective the next closest Habs defenseman is Brett Kulak at 18:30, Ouellet at 14:49 and Mete at 12:32. To be fair to the latter three, pretty much all Special Times Ice time goes to the Trident which is part of the reason for the disparity. Weber and Petry are two of four Habs goal scorers with more than 1 goal. How you feel about that can go both ways, but regardless, this team lives and dies with the Trident.
4. Phillip Danault
Remember when Bergevin stole Danault as a throw in? Maybe he was or wasn’t but either way Bergy with another absolute STEAL of a trade to get easily one of the best two-way defensive forwards in the league. I have been pretty hard on Danault personally when talking with friends because of two reasons, one, I know how good he can be. Two he is that important to our team success.
Danault currently leads all Montreal forwards in ice time (19:57) playing the hardest minutes of the group. Night in and night out Danault is the only constant when preparing to line up against the opposition’s top line. I really hope the Habs make a deep push not only because I am a fan, but because the deeper their run, the more respect Danault will get across the league.
5. Brendan Gallagher
No disrespect to Price who fully deserves most of the recognition for the Habs success, but I think I have spoken about him enough. I will however leave you with this.
Getting back to Gally, to say that he is struggling offensively would be an understatement. No one questions his effort or compete level, he has no quit in him and he leads this team by example. With that being said, when you are a player of Gally’s caliber the expectation is to score, and preferably often. Rounding up his two 19 goal season, Gallgher has hit the 20 goal mark in all but two NHL season, one of which was his rookie year. Two of those season he hit 30, and to be quite honest, he was one of the lone bright spots on offence through the dark days a couple season back. It is next to impossible to shit on the guy, but he needs to be held accountable. I think that someone needs to pull him aside like Seabrook did to Toews and tell him that it is unacceptable for him to not be scoring.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
For those of you who have been watching this March Madness like set up for the NHL playoffs, the intensity level ramps up every single game. This is obviously to be expected but there was a bit of a ‘finding our legs’ phase at the start which was to be expected. As it stands right now, only two teams are up against the ropes right now, Vegas leads the Hawks 3-1 and surprisingly the Islanders hold a 3-0 lead on the Capitals. We all know the stats when down 3-0, only four teams in league history have comeback to win, the most recent being the LA Kings in 2014.
An interesting develop broke in Toronto, as Boston Bruins goalie and Vezina nominee, Tuukka Rask opted out of the playoffs. You can have you’re own comments on the subject matter but I find it to be incredibly narcissistic to judge a man in this situation without yourself being in the bubble. Rask has a new born at home along with 2 other young daughters, if he wants to be with his family that’s his business. As far as I am concerned it the Bruins organization and players support his decision then why is anyone else commenting? Specifically you Mike Milbury, one of the biggest narcissists in the league, there’s a reason he was the last person in the NHL to realize GM/Coaches don’t work.
Sticking with the Bruins for a moment, Jack Edwards continues to prove that he has zero human decency. In Game 2, Andrei Svechnikov and Zdeno Chara were battling in front of the net and Svechnikov fell very awkwardly. It look liked he either toe picked or his toe just got stuck underneath him and he fell, bending his leg awkwardly underneath himself. I am far from a medical expert, but in my high school science opinion, it looked like the fall put all the force on his knee. The way that his knee was twisted as it bent underneath him it could be a MCL injury. Let’s hope I am wrong because he is a critical piece of the Hurricanes offence and a pleasure to watch play hockey.
Getting back to Jack Edwards, he does not have a good reputation in the NHL outside of the Boston area. I have watched Bruins vs Habs games in Boston on their home feed and I put in ear phones. I get that if you are a Bruins fan he is the man, but even if I were a Bruins fan I personally do not like subjective announcers. Get caught up in the emotion of the game? Feed of the energy of the fans in the building? Absolutely, go for it! Edwards takes his subjective opinions a step further than anyone else, and this time he went to far. Jack hasn’t tweeted since, no apology, nothing. This is a scum move and the Canes said a lot by not saying much.
Ending this on a much more positive note, the Canucks are a lot of fun to watch and if you are able to catch any of their games against the Blues, I suggest you do so! I have been watching Canucks games when I can for a few years now because my girlfriend is from Vancouver and the young talent on that team is a treat to watch every night. Just as an example, look at what Quinn Hughes is doing to the reigning Stanley Cup Champs as a rookie!
This team has been so impressive against the Blue thus far that Pierre Lebrun (second to only the Bobfather and possibly The Dregs) has compared them to the 2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks. That is a heavy comparison but he is most certainly on to something. One name I want to touch on because I have yet to do so in my articles is Bo Horvat.
The former nineth overall pick was the return piece in the Schneider trade and he is the heart and soul of this team. For a team that is so young, to have a captain as young as Horvat could easily go one of two ways. The fact that the Canucks are where they are, is an absolute testament to the type of leader that Horvat is. He currently sits tied for fifth in scoring in the playoffs right now and already has four goals in the series against the Blues including the Game 2 winner in OT. As much as I want my predictions to be correct to give me some credibility with my readers, I want to see this team make a deep push.
It’s a quick turnaround for the Blues and Canucks as they get back at it tonight at 10:30. The Habs will take on the Flyers tomorrow afternoon at 3:00 pm so adjust yourselves accordingly. I hope that the players in the locker room know that they let their goalie down on his birthday and they make up for it tomorrow to even up the series. Who knows, maybe next time we speak the Habs will have a series lead!