Friday, January 06, 2012

Who Will Stop The Bruins?

Isn't enough for the suffering Montrealer that in the year of the Cursed Bear that his Habs are stumbling in the dark.

To have to wake up to a scoreboard that shows a 9-0 victory we so crave and standings that show our bitterest rivals scoring 69 more goals than they have allowed is a lot to manage.

The question that remains is who will stop this scoring/shut-down machine?

The answer is ever less likely to be the Habs. Though once or twice last season. The Bruins were pretty Jennings-esque last year as well, and scoring more than they had in years. They ended with 195 against and 251 for, eclipsing the Habs on both counts.

But at those one or two junctures the Habs came close to toppling the would be juggernaut. Whether it was the embarrassment that took place on March 8th and ended in ghastly silence, but without history of discipline, the opening of a playoff round that saw Thomas beaten early and often or the final seconds of a season where the Canadiens called for goals and got them.

Those were the days, and but for a few wayward shots maybe this would be a different post. As it stands, these clubs have taken off in very different directions since the challenge.

The divergence for me comes somewhere in between Game 2 and 3 of a heated playoff series between the rivals. To that point, we were dealing with teams that were 46-30-8 (Habs) and 46-27-11 (Bruins) 84 games into a season -- two respectable, yet just above average units.

From that point, however, the difference is staggering. The Bruins are a Stanley Cup champion with the impressive record of a half season in January, the Habs are a first round loser and squad mired in decisions about which draft pick to take.

The Bruins have a record of 42-17-1 over 60 games 85 points and 0.708 hockey. They have scored 202 goals (or 3.37 GF/G) and allowed a mere 105 (1.75 GA/G)

The Habs for their part have 16-22-7 over 45 games for 39 points and 0.433 hockey. They have scored 118 goals (2.62 GF/G) but allowed 129 (2.87 GA/G).

They could not be more different. The Bruins are challenging for tops in every category, with trophy candidates abounding. The Habs are happy if they hit the middle of the charts in certain categories and at this point would have trouble justifying a representative at the All-Star participation-fest.

What happened?

Lots of things obviously. But to contrast a few aspects:

Thomas has set the world on fire in the Bruins goal and set records in the process. Even Tuukka Rask has been league-leading when called on. Carey price for his part is doing a nice job at keeping his head above average water levels, but no more.

The Bruins have promoted Tyler Seguin who now leads their team in scoring. The Habs never picked anyone like Tyler Seguin and hope that players like Pacioretty, Eller and perhaps Leblanc represent at least capable options for the future.

Zdeno Chara has patrolled the blueline without break for the Bruins. Markov in Montreal. The rest of the Bruins defence, critical to their defensive scheme has been consistently there and consistently performing in their tasks. The rest of the Habs defence has been hodge podge of second years, rookies and at times declining vets orbiting Josh Gorges as the #1.

Claude Julien's defensive system was given time to solidify as the offence took its sweet time to bloom. Jacques Martin was never able to fully commit or convince his players to commit properly that offence could or would bloom.

The Bruins seem to ask not if they will win after scoring first, but by how much. The Habs may win by much, but usually only when the generosity of opposition goalies allows the team to stumble past early doubts.

The Bruins have set records for shooting and goaltending efficiency at times. The Habs have been setting their own marks.

There are a lot of differences, but really the two teams that were nearly equals last April have not changed that much in their make ups. Though 9-0 would be fun, they still only award 2 points for that, and the 9+ boost in the goal differential rarely comes into play.

If I were an acolyte of regression, I might suggest that it would be her turn to step in and end the Bruins year of fun, perhaps at least in one aspect of the shooting or goaltending fortune they have been basking in.

But instead, I ask the vengeful Canucks this Saturday and the resurgent Canadiens to emphatically extend their win streak to four next Thursday instead. It was a Canadiens win that started this thing, a Canadiens win that kicked it going again in the fall. Fitting that it should be a Canadiens win to call time.

The psychology of winning and losing has been on wonderful display with these two clubs. All turned on a dime in early spring and has remained on edge since. Yet, psychology is only as strong as the last reinforcement and moments of doubt need not pile too high to find lots of company.

Let's use 2012 to set things straight. The year of the Cursed Bear is closed. Let's open another era of the Lion.

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