Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Revving up Round 2: Strengths and Weaknesses for Canadiens and Bruins

I have done a little analysis and want to take a bit of time to share and perhaps preview the next series. But before that, a taster of a preview: the strengths and weaknesses I perceive in both outfits.

Canadiens strengths

1. Depth of scoring
Right now, one of the Canadiens strengths is depth of scoring talent. Each line rolled out by Therrien has a one-time 20+ goalscorer on it, every line has a guy who has scored an important playoff goal, and even at one time has led his team in a tough situation. The epitome of the strength is in line three where the Canadiens captain skates opposite the current hot duo of Lars Eller and Rene Bourque. This is a fast trio that showed it doesn't need possession to make a dent. It was a nightmare for Tampa, and will be seen as a worry by Boston. If Gachenyuk recovers, this argument is only bolstered.

 2. Trusted goalmouth play
No one is saying this is pretty, or even fun to watch, but with Carey Price in goal, the team in front of him knows what the task is. Call this confidence in goaltending if you like, it amounts to the same thing. Carey is nothing but reliable (almost robotic at times) and so far in the playoffs and most of the season, this has meant defenders know where there places on the stage are. That's going to be important as Boston will try more things on if behind. It may be a moot point, however, if those positions are not given by the big Boston bodies.

3. Counter-attack
Lots of teams say this is a strength, but the Canadiens stand out. With Markov and Subban, a turnover is an offensive chance a split second later, and opponents must be wary (Tampa couldn't figure this out in time). The other defenders aren't bad either and clearly follow the template set out by the two leaders. What makes the counter attack so penetrating for the Habs when they have been at their best is the understanding the forwards have. Pacioretty in particular has an understanding with his passers, making his timing seem clairvoyant.

4. Smirks
Montreal players just seem to know how to get under the skin of a Bruin. I say smirk, but that's just one technique. If driving a team wild is the way to take over the game play, then this is something that the Habs can exploit.

Canadiens weaknesses 

1. Taking the easy shot
The age old weakness of the Canadiens is one that surfaced at all the low points of the season. When the checking gets tighter and the middle of the ice is taken away from them, the Canadiens forwards are sometimes too willing to put a notch on the shot clock.

2. Over-exploiting the long pass
While the quick long pass is clearly a strength, it can also be a weakness if overused. Nothing can be as devastating as an intercepted pass when 5 players are all moving in the other direction. One hopes that facing the Bruins, the Canadiens will know when the easy bank is called for.

3. Impatience
It can be seen many times (at home especially) when the Canadiens come out guns blazing and seem to flatten as the game goes by. So much energy is put into creating the fast start that when goals aren't a coming, the energy tends to be sapped from their veins. The team is fitter than they ever have been (they outlasted young Tampa most games), but they need not be rash because of it. Patience and a budget of energy spent wins many games.

4. Inexperience
Against the Bruins, it must surely be said that the Canadiens are an inexperienced playoff group. There is a scattering of playoff lore to go around, but only a conference final qualification to fall back on as a group. This isn't insurmountable, all experienced teams come from this position once.

Bruins strengths

1. Defense
The catchall of defense describes much of the Bruins strength. The reason the team wins so many games, has a Vezina candidate every year, and can rack up 3rd period goals in the season all comes back to the solid foundation they have created at the back. Although it's Rask who has the nomination, he stands out no more than Price for me. It is Zdeno Chara where the dominance originates in my opinion and from where it will continue. The other players around Chara are no chumps, but three rookies, a Flyers D and Boychuk wouldn't look nearly so good behind Dennis Seidenberg.

2. Ice coverage
Between the size of their players, some speed in others and the unity of system, the Bruins team always leave the impression of being everywhere in all zones of the ice. Of course it is the interplay of all these things, as a losing team with big, fast players can look slow. This advantage means they can get the shots they want and prevent those that the opposition is seeking.

3. Experience
Two Stanley Cup Finals in three years, together with a taste of some wacky situations gives this group of Bruins a lot to draw on after every win or loss, every goal for or against. This can be an overrated commodity, however, as bounces can turn things around for anyone, aspiring dynasty or not.

Bruins weaknesses

1. Four lines
There may be a time for rolling four lines, but blindly adhering to this approach can be a weakness. As good as Shawn Thornton may seem for a fourth liner, he is still a lifetime fourthliner and would be overstretched by playing game-in, game-out against players that have more to bring than fists and unrecovered dump ins. Montreal may have the match-up to negate this "depth" of Boston's and I suspect it will take Julien longer than a period to adjust to his own precious 4-line philosophy. Just as it took him too long to deploy Kessel when he needed scoring in 2008's playoff loss.

2. Rookie defenders
While defense is still an overall strength, one saw how Tampa's over-reliance on rookies can go wrong at just the inopportune time. Boston is essentially starting 3 rookie defenders this series. While they looked good against Detroit, that was rookies on rookies. These youngsters may have weaknesses for a few wily vets like Gionta and Briere to exploit.

3. Thin skin
Like it or not, you hop up enough players on amphetamines, coach's instructions begin to fade in the red mist. If things are going right for the Bruins, they can be lauded for discipline, but if things go wrong, there are thin-skinned individuals who can be relied on to make the hole bigger. What's worse is penalization only emboldens these who see violent escalation as the pinnacle of hockey respect.


Canadiens fans will be the first to notice that I have noted more strengths for the Habs. This does not mean I think the Habs stronger. Oh, how I'd love to just write defense as I could with the Bruins. For me the Canadiens strengths are more subtle, more transient and more delicate than those of the Bruins. I think that if a coaching staff is gearing his team up and can expect the height of performance from each key part, then the Canadiens have the real chance at upsetting the league champs. But don't forget Boston has a chance to think and for things to go right as well.

I feel, however, that the Canadiens will at least be relying on a bigger high from their recent series win. Boston won in convincing fashion, yes, but Detroit of 2014 was a pale shadow of previous outfits and was only too happy to play the part of outside shooter. Montreal were facing an opponent that was legitimately their superior over a season (even in head-to-head play), and did a lot more than take some lucky shots and good ref calls through the round. Their sweep was 4 wins from 4 games in which they outplayed the Lightning, in different ways each time. The rush of that win and a road start gives the Habs the wind behind the back.

Whatever I have said or go on to say in upcoming posts, one thing is clear, this should be a series. The battles within games should be exciting, regardless of what the final record is to show. I await the drop of that puck now with baited breath. I'm sure all of you feel the same.

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