Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Stanley Cup 2011, Round One

Key Canadiens Players

Each player matters in a playoff series, but some matter more than others. No offense to Ryan White and David Desharnais, but here are the players I think could make key differences in key areas for the Montreal Canadiens over the next couple of weeks.

Carey Price

I write Carey Price, I could have just written goalie. The goalie is always a key player in a series. A goalie playing well can turn the tide, just as a goalie playing badly can turn the tide (see recent playoff examples).

Carey Price is the goalie, and this is important. It's important because Carey doesn't currently have a playoff record he would want me to share with you. But there is something he would want me to share -- he did once have a great playoff record. He did once have numbers for a playoff career to be proud of. Importantly, those were accumulated vs. the Claude Julien Bruins with their on-again-off-again scoring. As well as that, Carey has a season to his credit now that endorses his lasting improvement. He has a video reel full of glove saves since RJ Umberger last scored on him. He's better.

He'll need to be better than before to help the Canadiens avoid a sweep. He'll need to be as good or better than he's been since January to help his team win in this round.

Now that I've covered the obvious, I can move on...

Tomas Plekanec

The last time the Canadiens faced the Bruins in the playoffs, Plekanec was benched. Despite the lack of a superior option, he was put aside for a game -- that's just how uselessly he was playing.

Last season, Tomas wasn't able to be the man of the hour in the Philly series, but he played a big role in the first two match-ups of the spring as checker and agitator, with occasional offensive contribution.

This year, I think Tomas has to find something more. I think Tomas has to step up and lead the Canadiens top line.

His record against Boston this season (4 second assists in 6 games) doesn't promise that this performance will come for nothing. It will have to come from within Pleks. It'll have to be a triumph of will. Frankly, it's time for the veteran centre to take his best regular season play and implement it into the playoffs, else his contract might not look the steal of 2010 that we'd all been thinking.

Scott Gomez

Gomez is a key. Not because he needs to justify his contract (indeed he should try to at some point), but because the centres after him can't be counted on to deliver in the crunch.

Fortunately for Gomez, his playoff history shows some grit (if not a flood of points). Also, he'll be thankful to face the Bruins. Against this bruising team, Scott scored 2 goals and posted 5 points (acting like a 25 goal, 65 point man -- as opposed to the 32 point scoring 5 goalscorer he was against the other 28 teams).

Gomez will miss Max Pacioretty who exploited the Bruins cement feet like no other Hab. But he'll appreciate Brian Gionta, he of 5 Bruins goals this season, together with whoever else will be receiving his shot-shunning passes.

Benoit Pouliot

I suspect that at some point someone on a line other than the two I've highlighted above will need to score. Last year Dominic Moore picked up the slack for all the support crew with many a timely goal. This year, no Moore.

Pouliot is the most talented of the remaining forwards. he is big and he is the only Habs player to actually beat up a Bruin.

At some point, whether to save his team, his teammate, or his career, Benoit Pouliot is going to have wake up and start dominating the light coverage he receives. He did it for stretches before Jacques Martin tattered his confidence with minor league promotions and Benny-benchings.

He's a big boy now, though. He must realise that no one is going to win the Cup he wants for him, no one is going to stop taking stupid penalties for him. No one is going to turn his nifty starts of plays into fully highlight worthy moments for him.

He'll be a key to this series. If he does wake up, even for a game, the Bruins won't be ready, nor do they have an answer. If he doesn't the Bruins will be able to focus on shutting down the two other key forwards.

6 GP, 0G, 0Pts, -2. What are you going to do about that?

Jaroslav Spacek

The Bruins can't have missed Subban, they'll know he's coming. Hamrlik and Wisniewski are a top pairing that has an excellent record, but it may be how the third pairing anchored by Jaroslav Spacek fares that tips the defensive balance.

Last playoffs Spacek took on Alexander Ovechkin and won. With a lesser assignment, he must do the same again. The Canadiens can't afford to have Bruins pluggers doing anything other than wasting time on the clock while being on for Habs goals.

If Spacek is healthy (and we think he is), then he is also rested. His haphazard approach to defending is still effective because he can use a partner well and play a system. If Jaro can put in some minutes to take the Michael Ryders of this series out of the picture, then the Bruins have the scoring crunch -- something which should distract them plenty from physical play and punishment and all that.

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