Rolling into Game 3 the Habs and their fans should be happy with where the team stands. Getting a 1-1 split on the road to start a series is a strong start to the series and now the Habs need to take care of business at home. With injuries to Jake Evans and now Eric Staal, the Habs roster will get the insertion of young talent up front that many (myself included) wanted to see from the start.
Without the benefit of last change, and being carried on the shoulders of Carey Playoff, the Habs managed to hold the Leafs at bay for Game 1. Game 2 was a completely different story. The Habs started with a strong opening period, but things quickly fell apart in the second. The Habs didn’t lose because of the refs, however the refs played their part in the momentum swing of the 2nd period.
Any Leafs fan that reads that is going to automatically just assume I am a homer Habs fan who is complaining about the refs because they lost. I will concede to that being maybe 10% true, however, objectively speaking the refs in both games this series have been brutal. There is no way that this series should already have 15 penalties (the last 20 seconds of Game 2 not included) called between both teams. Nick Foligno said it after Game 1 and multiple Habs players insinuated it after Game 2, but the barrage of penalties to both teams needs to calm the f**k down.
It’s playoff hockey, let teams play.
Getting back to the people that fans actually pay to see, the changing of arenas, along with final change should be an interesting factor in tonight’s game. It is no secret that I am not a Ducharme guy but his line up decisions played out better than anticipated and he lead his team to victory in Game 1. However, I do think that Game 2 was a bit of a wake up call that Ducharme cannot rest on the laurels of sound defensive hockey while hoping that Price keeps one of the most explosive offenses in the NHL to 0 to 1 goals per game.
Suffice to say that the Habs do not have the fire power to match the Leafs, but they do have the depth to strategically deploy a roster that can try their best to run and gun with them. With the power of final change I would love to see the Danault line used as a shutdown line rather than being the primary focus to generate offense and simultaneously shutting down the Matthews line. Of course they are known as the xGF line so their contribution on the score sheet will be crucial to team success, however putting the onus on your two young centers should be the strategy in my humble opinion.
Habs fans and the media saw a version of this at practice today, but I believe Ducharme is being a little too cute by swapping Gallagher and Anderson. The re-insertion of Tatar could likely change this but time will tell. Regardless of what the line ups are, the Suzuki and KK lines should be put in better positions to produce offense and to take advantage of favourable matchups. This will allow the Danault line to play their game without having to worry about doing it on both ends of the ice.
On top of this simple strategic maneuver, here are a few things the Habs will need to do if they want to win tonight
1. Win the Special Teams Battle
With Caufield and KK back on the second PP unit, the Habs no longer have any excuses to not start producing on the man advantage. Toronto’s dormant PP1 unit got a lot of practice last game, with nearly 3 straight minutes due to a questionable (at best) challenge. Not sure what took the refs so long to confirm a blatantly obvious good goal, but this did allow the Leafs top unit to get some rest and come right back out for the subsequent 2 minute PP.
If the Leafs top unit is clicking the Habs need an answer to stand a chance. Continuously relying on Carey will not work. I believe this tweet perfectly sums up the status of the Habs special teams:
2. Create Chances off the Rush
A lot of Montreal’s early season success was due to their ability to create offense off the rush at an unsustainable rate. The team is not great at the cycle and they struggle to set up in the OZ and create quality scoring opportunities in the slot. They are however very good at getting the puck to the slot off the rush, and this will help get guys like Josh Anderson going again as this is his bread and butter.
3. Get Toffoli going again
Toffoli is a seasoned vet with a ton of playoff experience and he is more than capable of getting himself going again. In his recent contribution to The Players Tribune he wrote about how much he loved playing at the Bell Center. There may not be any fans this time around (remaining hopeful for Game 6), here’s to hoping the ambiance alone will provide Toffoli with that small spark to get his high octane offense from this season going again.
4. Let Caufield go on an adventure!
Of course the tendency would be to shield him and insulate him properly through his line mates and final change. However, much like Ducharme and Claude did last season with their young players, I would love to see Caufield empowered and unleashed. Let him sink or swim and from the team perspective, take the good with the bad because in Caufield’s case, he has shown that his good outweighs the negatives.
As always don’t forget to check out the rest of the Hot Sauce Family and check out our Youtube Channel for all of our podcasts and videos! Tonight we will be hosting another Live Stream! Tune in live during the game as multiple Hot Sauce personalities will be joining the show intermittently to provide you with expert analysis, beers and of course laughs!