Thursday, April 10, 2008

4-10-08: Canadiens 4, Bruins 1

The Habs have a beautiful game. Go ahead and argue about what makes a team ‘best’, certainly that’s a qualitative debate open to many different perspectives, but I defy you to find a more consistently elegant game being played by any other team in the League. Not just elegant in the sense of aesthetically pleasing, but elegant in the sense that physicists might use the term- their play is a balanced equation that synthesizes speed, toughness, and intelligence in an uncannily efficient and perversely obvious manner.

At least, against the Bruins it is. Every time we play them, I am astounded at the extent to which the Canadiens’ style dictates the game. We are the machine, they are the hapless would-be saboteurs. I was looking for reasons to worry tonight. The 8-0 regular season sweep means nothing, yeah? This is the playoffs. Surely Boston would come out with a redoubled effort. Surely they’d give us something to think about. It’d be sheer hubris to expect the Habs to get away with the kind of dominance they had for the past six months and more.

I was looking for reasons to worry, and I found none. It was just like a Habs-Bruins game in the regular season, only more so. We outrun them, and they get thwacky. We out-thwack them, and they get surly, and then we just tune them out. They sit back and wait for us to make mistakes, but we don’t make enough mistakes and they’re too slow to exploit the ones we do. We just keep coming, line after line, shift after shift, and no matter how many rushes they break up, we’re always there on the rebound. And then the game ends, and all over Montreal people are left thinking, that was some damn fine hockey, but where was the other team?

1. An aggressive but not particularly transgressive game from either side. There was a lot of hitting, and a lot of gabbing, and a lot of after-the-whistle shoving, but surprisingly little violent acrimony given the lopsidedness of the play. However, the refs did seem particularly zealous in breaking up those cozy little inter-team chats that have a way of starting when somebody’s goalie gets knocked around. Could it be that the NHL is looking for a scandal-free postseason?

2. Rookies are supposed to be nervous and unsteady in the playoffs, but apparently the Kostitsyn brothers haven’t gotten that memo yet. They opened the scoring with two goals within the first three minutes of play, as if they just couldn’t wait to get those first NHL playoff points. However, I was almost more impressed with how composed they- and the rest of the Habs’ kiddie-corps- were for the duration. Plekanec was the only one who struck me as maybe a little unprepared, in that there were a few plays where he didn’t seem to realize that at this time of year even the Bruins aren’t going to give him the luxury of enough time for the ideal set-up. But one thing I’ve learned about Pleks this year is that he’s the hockey equivalent of Guy Pearce in Memento- he just doesn’t remember, every shift is a completely clean slate. Shake him up, knock him off-rhythm for one play, it doesn’t have the slightest effect on how he’ll come out the next time around.

3. Both Hamrlik and Smolinski are among the longest-serving NHLers without a Cup. If this game is any indication, that’s some kinda motivation, because they were easily the two most compelling veteran performers of the night (Kovalev aside, but he’s always a one-man compulsion). Hamrlik was everywhere, doing everything- shooting, hitting, blocking shots, making char siu, tutoring underprivileged Estonian children in calculus, inventing an amphibious helicopter, and setting a Czech record in the hundred-meter breaststroke… I’m exaggerating. But only slightly.

4. Alright, Price did let in a bad goal. But the way the D was playing in front of him, he didn’t need to be spectacular, just solid, and that he certainly was. Hopefully, however, knowing that that shot cost him a shutout will be motivating for the boy.

5. I’m going to try to refrain from making negative comments, because there really isn’t anything worth being negative about, but I will say that I’m getting a scary thinking-too-much-in-all-the-wrong-ways vibe off Ryder. I like him better when he plays a more reflexive, instinctual game; also, any line featuring Higgins has plenty of overthinking going on already. (Not criticizing Higgy- his anxiety makes him what he is).

6. I keep thinking that Thomas is working some kind of crazy deception tactic by letting in all these five-hole goals- like he’s trying to trick opponents into focusing all their shots there and then at some opportune moment he’ll clamp shut like a Mormon schoolmarm and we won’t know what to do. But no, apparently he really does just have a slow groin. Poor guy.

One down, fifteen to go. In spite of this performance, I fully expect the Bruins to come out harder on Saturday- or more accurately, I hope they do. Weirdly enough, I don’t think a first round sweep would be good for the Habs. The real test of this team, I believe, is going to be the game they play after their first playoff loss. I’d almost prefer that game happen sooner against Boston than later against New York or New Jersey or Washington.

[Please excuse my even-more-egregious-than-usual use of the first person plural pronoun to describe the Canadiens. In my defense, 1) it’s easier to write when you can use different pronouns for the two teams- ‘we’ and ‘they’ as opposed to ‘they (Habs)’ and ‘they (Bruins)’; and 2) I’m a Habs fan. We’re crazy like that.]


kovalev fan said...

My impression of playoff hockey is there is actually very little real violence resulting from those scrums you mentioned. Players are much more disciplined in the post-season. The only team that comes to mind that actually played dirty or or with "violent acrimony" when things didn't go their way was the 1993 Los Angeles Kings, and perhaps the 1994 New York Islanders. Coaches and players that try to "send a message" are not destined for success in the playoffs.

And fear not, here's your reason to worry: 0-for-5 on the power play, and a two-minute 5-on-3 with no goal.

E said...

i dunno, last year's playoffs didn't strike me as particularly disciplined. there were a fair number of suspensions and fines handed out before the first round was even over, and at least one of the teams that had players suspended did win the cup, and in fact one of those suspensions (brad may getting 3 games for suckerpunching kim johnsson) was for a late-in-a-losing-game, send-a-message action.

i'm definitely not worried about the blown 5-on-3, because it was so late in the game and it looked to me like they weren't particularly trying to score, just using it as one more way to keep the bruins out of things in the final minutes. i don't think that means much other than that carbonneau was feeling very conservative. as to the weak pp, i suppose after spending all week hearing analysts talk about how our #1 pp was such a huuuuuuuuuge part of our success and it's going to be soooooooo tough for us without it, i feel pretty self-righteous about winning on even-strength goals.

kovalev fan said...

Point taken. I guess I'm still remembering the "Old NHL" and not Gary Bettman's "New NHL".

Kaz said...

Yeah, I was actually glad we :) didn't score on the 5-on-3. You don't want rub their faces in it, and give them any extra motivation for Saturday.

Last year's playoffs may have been an aberration in terms of fighting and other extracurricular activity. But some interpreted that as some sort of twisted Bettman-inspired marketing effort. So far this year, it looks better than last, although there are too many goalie interference penalties going uncalled.

Plekanec as Guy Pearce? Is that why he wears that turtleneck, to hide the tattoos?

E said...

i don't see how violence in the playoffs has anything to do with bettman. granted, the league's justice is often less than just, but were officiating/post-game punishment practices ever really fair? anyway, how can you reasonably displace responsibility for individual actions like may's to the league in general, unless you want to argue that such players are acting under orders from the powers-that-be, which would be pretty paranoid? and aren't there just as many hockey fans who think that the 'bettman' nhl has reduced the violence of the game? there seems to be a lot of rush to blame the executives for any perceived fault with the product on the ice, but i just don't think they exercise the kind of comprehensive control that would legitimate such accusations.

kovalev fan said... wistful pining for the halcyon days of pre-"instigator rule" hockey was in no way a paranoid accusation that Gary Bettman has in some way mandated that the Ducks and all other teams play dirty in the playoffs. It was simply an observation that things have not always been this way. The Ducks play a retaliatory style that has indeed been atypical of other successful teams in recent memory. I greatly appreciate the clarity with which you view the game, but please do try not to be so dismissive of those that cheer for the same team and might provide some additional insights based on a long and deeply involved history with the sport.

And I stand vindicated that the power play is indeed a major concern going forward.
An any case,

Go Habs Go.

E said...

hey, kovy, i wasn't trying to be dismissive. i'm sorry, i should have been more careful with my tone. in my reference to paranoia, i was referring more to kaz's suggestion that 'some' viewed the violence of last year's playoffs as a marketing ploy, which i do recall hearing variations of quite a bit- that there is some power in the league offices that can directly shape the game in the hopes of appealing to this or that audience. i don't doubt that they have influence, i just don't think it's direct enough to work that simply.

you're the one who mentioned bettman as the difference between the old ways and the new ones, but you didn't describe the mechanism by which you see the two as related, and i guess i was just trying to push you to elucidate further. i genuinely regret coming off as rude, it wasn't intentional.