Habs’ Success Runs Deep

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We have said it before and we will say it again: for the Montreal Canadiens to have success, they must get contribution from everyone in the line-up on any given night. And that’s what they have been getting so far in this series against the New York Rangers. 

Alexander Radulov leads the team in points with five in three games, including an overtime winner in game two and a spectacular goal in game three to ice it for the Habs. But in order to get to that point, Claude Julien‘s team has benefited from three key contributors’ who have upped their game after a disappointing season.

Brendan Gallagher is dangerous and gets under the Rangers’ players’ skin big time, which is what makes him who he is. Not only is he in their mind, but he generates offensive opportunities for his team, something we haven’t seen much off this season.

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Radulov with a beauty in game 3

His centreman, Tomas Plekanec, has managed three points in those three games, and he seems to have found his legs. He is getting some good looks at the net and at times, his line completed with Paul Byron, has been the Canadiens’ most dangerous one out there.

The Canadiens are also benefiting from the resurgence of another key player, Alex Galchenyuk, who was rewarded for his good play by earning his way back to pivot a line with Andrew Shaw and Artturi Lehkonen. Julien starting him on the wing on the fourth line drew the ire of some fans, but the fact is that Galchenyuk used it as motivation to prove to his coach that he deserves to play up.

Rapid Shooting

  • Paul Byron (?) leads the team in hits so far with 16 hits in three games! Dwight King is tied for second on the team with 12 hits.
  • Shea Weber has raised his game for the playoffs. While averaging 28:36 minutes per game of ice time, playing against the Rangers’ top line, he has three points in as many games, with a team leading 10 blocked shots. His fight in game two against J.T. Miller has sent the Rangers a clear message and it was obvious that they feared him in game three.
  • In addition to his overall play, Plekanec has won 56.7% of his faceoffs so far in this series. Surprisingly, Steve Ott is only at 46.4% in that category, but he is playing a key role in this series regardless.
  • Nathan Beaulieu had a better game in game three but he is not having a good start to those playoffs. He has a team leading differential of minus -3 and has made some costly mistakes, particularly in Montreal.
  • A calming influence was the play of Brandon Davidson who replaced Nikita Nesterov on the Canadiens’ blue line for game three in New York. He was however limited to 9:06 of ice time compared to the 14:28 average for Nesterov. That’s where Alexei Emelin would come useful.
  • The Canadiens are winning the special teams’ battle with the Rangers so far. They have scored two goals with the man-advantage in 10 occasions (20%) and they have yet to allow a goal while short-handed in 10 occasions in this series.
  • The Rangers (160 hits) and the Canadiens (139 hits) are the two most physical teams so far in the first round of the playoffs.
  • Henrik Lundqvist has been the busiest goalie in the playoffs so far as the Canadiens have directed 118 shots on him in three games. In addition, the Rangers have blocked 65 shots by Habs’ players to lead all teams, meaning that Julien’s team is firing on average 61 shots on net per game, either blocked or saved by Lundqvist.
  • At the other end, Carey Price and the Canadiens’ defense have blocked on average just under 47 shots per game so far, 30 of which getting to the Habs’ goaltender.

 

This series is far from over folks, so don’t start celebrating too soon. But we must admit that things are looking much better than they did after game one, which saw Lundqvist blank the Canadiens to take a 1-0 series lead! Game four is to the Rangers what game two was to the Habs, almost a must win as they don’t want to head back to Montreal down three games to one in this series. Go Habs Go!

Rangers vs Habs: Game On!

 

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The long, at times boring and frustrating regular season is over in the NHL and fans and media alike can move on that what is truly important: the players aren’t getting paid and we will see the best hockey of the season! Yes, it’s playoffs’ time, when players don’t play for money but for pride. That’s when they put their best effort and everyone plays hurt, even injured. That’s when feelings get put aside and the line combinations only matter to fanboys, not even so much to the players themselves. 

The Montreal Canadiens have known their opponent in the first round for some time and Claude Julien‘s team has been preparing accordingly, giving much deserved time off to some key veterans down the stretch. At practice, the focus has been on their anaemic powerplay as special teams can make a huge difference in a seven-game series. Even Alex Galchenyuk doesn’t care about being demoted to the fourth line, although the same can’t be said about a few Negative Nancy’s on Twitter.

Everyone wants to make predictions so before we do so, why don’t we look at some comparatives of the 2016-2017 season for each team.

OverrallStats

Teams

The Canadiens have the better natural goals’ scorer in Max Pacioretty but the Rangers have a lot more offensive contribution down the line-up. The goaltending, while similar at first glance, is also in favour of the Canadiens because it’s Antti Raanta and not Henrik Lundqvist who has numbers more comparable to Carey Price.

 Face-to-Face Season’s Match-Up

Matchup

There is no denying that the Canadiens have the edge in the match-ups, based on this season alone. It is important to note however that only one of the three games between the two teams ended with more than one goal difference. Expecting a blowout for one side or the other might be wishful thinking.

Offensively

Off

A definite advantage to the Rangers in that category, although they have been struggling off late.

Defensively

Def

Clear advantage for the Canadiens on defense. They have the best defenseman in Shea Weber, and more depth than the Rangers at that position and that, even with Alexei Emelin injured.

Goaltending Match-Up

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As pointed out earlier, this is a clear advantage for the Habs and while King Henrik is a veteran who knows better than to let past stats affect him, it will play in the back of his mind, particularly if the Canadiens can get to him early and often and if that happens, we might get to see Raanta in this series.

The Carey Price Effect

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He is the Rangers’ Nemesis and they know it. Price gets into opponents’ mind just like Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur or Dominic Hasek did before him. The Rangers game plan will be simple: direct has many pucks at him as possible, and obstruct him as much as possible. If he can see the puck, he will stop it.

Bad Blood

Much has been said about Chris Kreider taking Price out in the playoffs of 2014 and you can hope that the NHL will be keeping a close eye on players taking liberties against goaltenders in all series, but particularly in this one. Price did not forget, that’s for sure.

 

Prediction Time?

Now that we have looked at everything, it’s time to scrap everything that you have just read and watched, because the playoffs are a totally different beast. Often, it’s a matter of who’s hot and who’s not, and which team can stay healthy or not. Coaching also has a lot to do with it and you have two guys behind the bench with tons of experience. This series folks could go one way or another.

If you can predict, good for you. I am suggesting for everyone to grab some food along with their favourite beverage, sit back on your most comfortable chair, or at the pub with friends, and enjoy every minute of the best hockey of the season. No more gimmicks like the skills competition to determine a winner, no more loser point, just hard played NHL hockey the way it has always been meant to be played before Gary Bettman and his boys started scrapping it for everyone. Go Habs Go!

Image Credit: Grooch