In a special game preview of the February 2nd match-up between The Florida Panthers and the Montreal Canadiens, our very own Coach K and Frank Rekas of therattrick.com got together and launched some questions to each other about the respective teams they cover. As the following Q & A shows us, the apparent parity in the NHL is evident not only on, but off the ice.
From the Rat to the Coach
@therattrick – Last season Carey Price seemed to be a bit of a lost soul and his stock had gone down considerably. This year, he seems to have regained his confidence. What do you think happened?
CoachK – Like any player, adversity often defines them. In the case of Carey Price, he skyrocketed to the NHL. And along the way, he won a World Junior gold medal and a Calder Cup. Many of us, myself included, deemed him the next Dryden or Roy. I was that pressure that got to Price last season. After he sat out the majority of the playoffs, it dawned on him that the NHL wouldn’t be as easy to deal with as the minors, especially from a mental perspective. It’s allowed him to refocus his energies towards goaltending.
@therattrick – Montreal’s team has often been criticised for their lack of size with players such as Gomez, Cammalleri, and Gionta. Still it seems that offensively they have the talent to score, and size or lack of hasn’t been a problem. Any particular reason(s) why?
CoachK – Early on this season, the Canadiens did a great job of attack with speed and driving the net. When using that speed, physicality becomes a non-factor. However, as of late, they have become more of a perimeter team. This not only slows down their game because they limit the space they have to work in, but it allows their opponents to be physically dominant. Going forward, if their offensive strategy isn’t corrected, they may struggle to make the playoffs.
@therattrick – Last season you rode Jaroslav Halak into the playoffs. He has since been traded and has struggled with the St. Louis Blues. Did Montreal keep the better goaltender, and why or why not?
CoachK – It’s hard to say. In my opinion, Price has a greater upside than Halak from a pure talent perspective. That being said, the Canadiens have had an abundance of small goalies in their history who have had good seasons and then faded.Thibault, Theodore and Hurt among those.
@therattrick – Currently you sit within the top eight in the Eastern Conference. What changes would you be looking for by the trade deadline to strengthen the team?
CoachK – I’d be looking for someone on defense, who can play quality minutes, and lessen the burden on Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek. I would also consider getting a big man up front, who’s a decent finisher, to compliment the forwards on the perimeter. A guy who can drive to net hard, and open up space for the speedy forwards to work their magic.
@therattrick – Jacques Martin, or as I call him Uncle Jack, has never been accused of being an offensive genius, yet it seems at times the Habs do play a more uptempo style. Has he loosened the reigns a bit on that?
CoachK – Only at the beginning of games. Getting a lead is key for “Uncle Jack’s ” system to work. He allows his players to be creative in the first 40 minutes of games, and uses a defensive shell in the 3rd. It makes my hair stand on end.
@therattrick – Is it really necessary for a captain and a coach to actually be able to speak French? Does this hamper the team in the selection process of those areas or does it not really matter?
CoachK – This city, in it’s infinity wisdom, uses the language issue as a crutch. It restricts the ability to get quality English coaches. How easily we forget that the greatest successes in Canadiens’ history were orchestrated by men like Toe Blake, Dick Irvin and Scotty Bowman.
@therattrick – Since Jacques has some old friends with Florida, does his game plan change at all when playing the Panthers? Do you feel the team is better prepared when they face the Panthers because of this?
CoachK – His familiarity with any franchise has nothing to do with it. It is a coach’s ability to familiarize himself with another coach’s strategy and beliefs that makes all the difference.
@therattrick – The Panthers are fighting for their playoff lives, while Montreal is fighting to stay in the race. What expectations do you have of how this game will be played. Safe? Physical? Hi Scoring?
CoachK – I expect both teams to start the game strong, trying to generate offense. However, at this point in the season, it seems that playing back to back games is the Canadiens’ Achilles heel. Hopefully, coming off of the All-Star break, they can have enough energy to keep pace with the younger Panthers.
@therattrick – What are your expectations for the Canadiens for the balance of the season and into the playoffs should they make them. How far can the really go, and what makes them different from last season’s group.
CoachK – It’s not easy to expect a whole lot from a team sitting in playoff limbo right now. While the coaching has a lot of work to do, the playoff stretch falls strictly on the players. Most of the coaching is done early in the season, with adjustments made throughout the year. If this team can get some help at the deadline to shore up their defensive liabilities, as well as good goaltending from Carey Price, they could ind themselves back in the Eastern Conference final. As far as this year’s team compared to last season’s, the difference is obvious. There were no expectations last season, therefore no pressure. With their excellent playoff run, they set the bar way high. Because of that, only with a Stanley Cup championship can they improve on that.
@therattrick – What’s the deal on P.K. Subban. As flashy and as brash as he appears, does he have what it takes to make it as a star in the NHL, and will playing for JM hurt or help his progress.
CoachK – As far as I’m concerned, P.K. Subban has been the scapegoat for some of the other defensemen on the Canadiens. While paired up with Alexandre Picard early in the season, he was blamed for mistakes he made in desperation. Mind you, there have been a few obvious blunders along the way, but those are growing pains. Not every player can automatically adjust to the speed of the NHL. That being said, he has the potential to be an perennial all star .
From the Coach to the Rat
CoachK – Why do the Panthers, especially goaltender Thomas Vokoun, seem to bring their best versus the Canadiens?
@therattrick – The Panthers like many other NHL teams I would imagine seem to have the habit (sorry) of raising their level of play when going into a Canadien city, especially Montreal. It’s the atmosphere and the energy in the building that I think intensifies their game. As for Tomas Vokoun, he’s probably a little more pumped up to show Montreal what they could have had for all these years, as they were the team that drafted him.
CoachK – It seems all the teams in the Sunbelt give the Habs fits, can you explain why that is?
@therattrick – Again I think that playing in a market where there’s more excitement and a higher level of energy from the city, media, and crowd, will raise the intensity level of the teams. Whether the games mean anything in the standings or not doesn’t matter. It’s the aura of playing in Montreal.
CoachK – What do you think are the strengths of the Panthers?
@therattrick – Hard work game in and game out. With the exception of six or seven games, the Panthers hard work and effort has kept them within striking distance of their opponents. Their five on five play has been some of the best this year. Goaltending is most likely the key to their success. Tomas Vokoun is under appreciated for the amount of rubber he faces. Without him, this team would be in serious trouble.
CoachK – What would be the game plan against the Canadiens?
@therattrick – As much as I hate to say it, slow them down. Try to score first and take the crowd out of the game and build on that lead. It is the second game of back to backs and traditionally that’s a bad omen for the Panthers. I’m hoping that the excitement of playing in Montreal changes that.
CoachK – With the hand he has been dealt, Peter DeBoer has done a good job as coach. From his perspective, what additions do you think might help him and the Panthers make a run for the playoffs?
@therattrick – Well, it’s no secret that the Panthers haven’t had a pure goal scorer since Pavel Bure. That said, I don’t think we can find that person at the deadline. I suspect that if the Panthers feel they are still in contention, they will look to see if there is a player or two that can contribute more consistently on offence. The center position is the weakest part of our club right now in my opinion, so a center who is big and can score would be a huge addition. Also I think they could use a “nasty” defenceman. But so could everyone else.
CoachK – There has been a noticeable improvement in the Panthers since the departure of former GM and coach Jacques Martin. What similarities do you see between the Panthers from four years ago and the current Canadiens?
@therattrick – In all honesty I think the only thing that I can say that is relatively close to being similar is the defensive shell that each team seems to go into. For some reason, Uncle Jack must have taught Pete how to clamp down in the third period by not only teaching him the tactic, but leaving a copy of the playbook on how to do it. Fortunately it doesn’t cause me to pull my hair out, but it has caused the grey to move in quicker than I’d like.
CoachK – With Martin’s inability to adapt his coaching philosophy to the changes in the game since the lockout, does the familiarity the Panthers have with him give them a distinct advantage?
@therattrick – I don’t believe that will have an effect on the situation of the game. While Martin’s style has been relatively the same, I think that Montreal’s speed and puck moving ability will cause the most problems for Florida. Not that the Panthers are slow mind you, but the Canadiens have some very talented passers and shooters. When they are able to use that speed and play an up tempo style, that will give anyone fits, regardless of the coach behind the bench. It will all boil down to who is the more energetic team of the night.
CoachK – Considering the similar structure of both rosters, who would you pick in a seven game series between the Habs and Panthers?
@therattrick – Well if the series started today, I don’t think the Panthers could get past Montreal in a seven game series. We just don’t have enough scoring. Ask em that one after the trade deadline and we’ll see if things are different.
CoachK – How do you think GM Dale Tallon differs from Montreal’s Pierre Gauthier? Who do you think will be more proactive at the Trade deadline?
@therattrick – Well, Tallon has a plan in place and as long as no one gets in his way, he’s going to work it. The team is going to be built via the draft with a trade or two and a free agent signing or two. Much like he did with the Blackhawks. Next season the panthers will have a much different roster. As for Gauthier, I would say that he’s going to try and improve the club via trades and free agency. The team tasted playoff success last year, and the pieces needed to take the next step will come from those areas.