Rocket: Our All Habs team is growing just in time for the 2009 playoffs. Kyle Roussel is a very knowledgeable and passionate Habs fan. He is good writer and effective debater (as we have seen before on these pages). We welcome Kyle to All Habs.
posted by Kyle Roussel
And it also seems that the springtime ritual of a Montreal / Boston opening round playoff series is here. Does this one feel any different than the last? In 2002, 2004 and 2008, the Canadiens defeated the Bruins in long, hard-fought series each time, regardless of their standing in the Eastern Conference. There have have been heroes in each of the Habs series wins; Richard Zednik, Jose Theodore, Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev, Carey Price…the list goes on.
This year, as in other years, there are reasons for dread and for hope. For starters, we can throw the regular season records out the window. They just don’t seem to matter when these 2 teams hookup in the playoffs. No matter who dominates the other (last year the Habs overwhelmed the Bruins 8-0 in the regular season, but needed 7 games to eliminate them). This year the Bruins were 5-0-1 agaist the Tricolore. So we can be pretty sure that this series is going to be a long one as it always is.
Both teams go in to the playoffs relatively healthy. Marco Sturm is out with a surgically repaired meniscus, and Andrei Markov is on the sidelines with a bum knee, so they say. There are rumours sprouting up that Markov could be ready to make a comeback early in the playoff series, but those are, as most rumours at this time of year are, unfounded. Still, I believe that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. My opinion is that if the Canadiens lose game one, there’s a better than even chance that we will see #79 back in the lineup. If not, and the Habs lose the second game, I think it’s a virtual guarantee that Markov will be back for game 3 in Montreal. Mathieu Schneider has a shoulder injury, but does not seem to be affecting his play at the moment. Still, you’ve got to figure that all it takes is just one awkward fall, one hard hit and he will probably call it quits for his career.
So the Canadiens as a whole are fairly healthy, but arguably their MVP is down (yes, Markov is their MVP). That hurts, as evidenced by the Canadiens 0-3-1 record in the last week of the regular season. Not the sort of feeling you want to bring in to the playoffs, but I get the sense that the Canadiens are writing off all of the games this week, and focusing ONLY on their performance on Thursday in Boston. A classic, playoff-type atmosphere game with everything a hockey fan would want. Unless you’re a Canadiens fan.
But I think we can look forward to at least 6 or 7 games of that over the next 2 weeks. What strategies will the teams employ? Will the Bruins go with their initimidation tactics and try to wear the Habs out, as they clearly tried to do on Thursday? The Canadiens allowed themselves to be pushed around, trusting that the officials would make the necessary calls and they would capitalize on the power play. To a certain extent, it worked. But does anyone really think guys like Komisarek and Gorges can take beatings like that over an extended period before they break down? I sure don’t. Is inserting big Georges Laraque to absorb some of that punishment and dole out some of his own the answer? Do the Canadiens fight fire with fire in this case? Hard to say. Like the rest of Canadiens fans, I was up in arms over how we were pushed around, smacked around and basically bullied all night. The Canadiens asserted themselves well and did what they needed to do. I understood Gainey’s strategy. Didn’t necessarily agree, and don’t know if it will work in the playoffs, but GM/Coach Gainey has built a team on skill and speed, not toughness and grit. I don’t know if you can try to change your style now. Inserting Laracque and/or Gregory Stewart means someone else has to come out. Who’s that going to be? And let’s remember that inserting either or both of those 2 means that not only are they going in at the cost of another player, but that when they are in the lineup, they will see more time in the box than on the ice. A double-whammy.
In nets we have another interesting battle. Tim Thomas, who had a tremendous regular season (and was recently rewarded with a long-term contract) goes up against Carey Price, who has had a tumultuous, inconsistent and sometimes horrific season. He looks to be rounding in to form, but we’ve said that before.
Will the newly formed #1 line of Koivu-Tanguay-Kovalev be able to overcome the duo of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman? If the Canadiens are to get past the Bruins, there can be no debate: they have to. What else is clear is that Tomas Plekanec has to come out of his season-long funk. After scoring 70 points this year, nobody expected a dropoff to 40 points this year. He’s got to be better. The Kostitsyn brothers have to contribute. The defense needs to contain Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic (who’ve I’ve lost respect for with his attacks from behind) and Patrice Bergeron. And another thing: Ryan O’Byrne needs to sit. Right now he brings absolutely nothing to the lineup.
It will all come out in the wash, but I’m going to go against what my head says. I’m going to go with my heart and stick with history.
Habs in seven.
Hope to see you at the Tweetup on Thursday!