Friday, May 16, 2014

Revving Up Round 3: Strengths and Weakensses for Canadiens and Rangers

What a pleasure to have to write another one of these. Another series means the Canadiens strengths might be tested in different ways, as well as their weaknesses. To analyze the Rangers is a taller task than the Bruins, as they occupy less of my thoughts on a regular basis. Here goes anyway.

Canadiens strengths

1. Depth of scoring (Same as Bruins series)
This strength remains a core strength. In fact it did the Bruins in. To have Daniel Briere take a 4th line shift is a huge luxury, as is having a revitalized Lars Eller with experienced Gionta and fast Bourque on the 3rd unit.

The fortunate problem of the Canadiens coaching staff right now is the imminent return of Alex Galchenyuk: one of the team's strongest on-puck players. Usually it takes time for a player to go from first contact practice to insertion in the lineup, so don't expect #27 on Saturday. Beyond that, it's a coach's decision. The depth he adds is interesting as he could be inserted onto any of the forward lines to create a change of look and improve talent level throughout.

 2. Trusted goalmouth play (Same as Bruins series)
Nothing changes here. The team knows what Carey can do, and he knows what they can do. They have been working together very well all season and back even further in time, and the familiarity of it has paid up recently. I'll say again, it's not always the easiest method to watch as a fan, but this team has proven it can absorb a lot of pressure.

3. Counter-attack (Same as Bruins series)
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 (Same as Bruins series)
This could be exacerbated against a team that more closely mirrors the Canadiens in style and makeup. In the Canadiens 0-0 battle with the Bruins, this weakness led to their demise, as they played into the hands of Rask and his defenders all night long. Don't think that game tape won't surface in the Rangers camp. Still, they nearly won that game, so...

2. Impatience (Same as Bruins series)
This is a flaw from the regular season, and the playoff Canadiens have been proving me wrong. I still think the tendency to launch the Hail Mary passes time after time could be a weakness to be exploited by an opponent.

3. The madness of Montreal
One wonderful thing about the Tampa series is that nobody came out of it deified by the fanbase. It was a solid team victory over an opponent they should have beaten. Boston's standing as league champ and recent Cup winner also helped temper things until near the final minutes of things. I think this benefited Montreal, as they could just go about playing hockey. I am not sure how many people now expect the Habs to win, but I'm already starting to see the requisite "It feels like 93" garbage that makes rounds when fans with keyboards get a little bit ahead of themselves. It's not a big weakness, but expectation can be a detriment (see Bruins, Boston) when an opponent is good at making surprise strikes. My read is the team is well coached on this and have their heads screwed on straight, but the fans on the street who want to make declarations 8 victories early are all too prevalent in the mad mad city of Montreal.

Rangers strengths

1. Patience
How else to describe a team quite happy to play 0-0 ties all the bloody time. The Rangers have had a series of coaches that have stressed defence no matter who the personnel and Vigneault is no great exception. They also, like the Habs have the speedy weapons to lie in waiting for the right opportunity to pounce.

2. "Possession"
This is very much a possession in quotation marks. The Rangers are a good team at making sure they get more shots their opponents, 4th in the league at this at 5-on-5. Yet, their shooting percentage does send the flag that some of their shots might be filler. And I haven't watched enough of them to tell you for certain. Still, they drive this strength to produce more goals for than against and to 41 regulation wins in the season and now several more in the playoffs.

3. Versatility
One of the Bruins weaknesses was a complete failure to adapt. I thought that might be the case before the series and their hubris proved me right. I think the Rangers will see beyond that. Already in these playoffs they have made moves for players in and out of the roster to match the occasion. The rotation at 6th defender gives them the option of Raphael Diaz or John Moore. At forward, they have some interesting moving cogs if they want. While their centres seem set, they have centres among their wingers. In their travelling squad are players who can contribute at the NHL level. Look only to Carcillo's role in the Philly series and Kreider and Miller's cameos for evidence. Their versatility comes at the top end too, where many players can take on a variety of roles both offensive and defensive.

4. Resilience
It goes without saying that all teams at this stage of the playoffs got this far by overcoming some hurdles. The Rangers were in quite a hole though and came out with more style than most.

Rangers weaknesses

1. Scoring rhythm
As a possible weakness, I'd like to point out the Rangers were shutout a pretty substantial 9 times so far this season. Twice most recently by Marc-Andre Fleury. It seems like the Rangers can go into stretches where their possession statistic building shots build nothing but possession numbers and they make life easier than it should be in important games for the opposing goalie. They would not be the first team in the league to do this.

2. Amorphous attack
I'm stretching here. But sometimes depth can be a good thing, and sometimes it can work against a team. from all records, this season has been a Rangers scoring by committee season. They counted on a number of different players to come out and take the lead over a season to get them a good goals for rate and a great goal differential. There is nothing wrong with having no 30 goalscorer (Nash had 26 with 13 assists in 65) and only 2 20 goal men (Richards with 20 on the nose), that is until the coach needs to identify the players to put on the ice in a do or die moment. The late season of remedy of Martin St. Louis may indeed cancel my argument, if not in the regular season statistics.

3. MSG ice
It's not good when your home ice is the worst in the league and you can't depend on it.


As you can tell, there's not much I dislike about the Rangers. I know they manage to lose their fair share of games, but it doesn't seem to be due to some fatal and singularly exploitable flaw.

To look down the Rangers lineup, you can see similarities with the Habs at every step. They have the depth of scoring, the mobile defenders, the efficient goaltending, the time-tested coaching. It makes for an interesting series when two teams of similar makeup meet. It also makes for a difficult tactical session beforehand.

The Canadiens main strength in their two series so far has been to neutralize the main point of opposition momentum and then pounce when opportunities arise. The Rangers just did that with Giroux, Crosby and Malkin too.

If there were ever an endorsement for taking care of your own game, this series would be it. The team that plays the Canadiens/Rangers game best will be the one that prevails in games won. For the Habs, I think this means allowing the game to flow and activating the strength they have from the back (Subban and Markov). I'm not suggesting a wild game of 2-on-1s in either direction, but certainly  a resistance to the urge to just bottle things up. IN my opinion, the Canadiens deserve to be the higher seed and thus will deserve the win if they play to their strengths.

Discipline will again be key. And I'd suggest that adaptability will play a role too. I am not expecting a Tampa series in the works here. The Rangers are deeper, with more veterans and a better coach. With two conference finals now in three seasons, they have the hunger to go further too.

Should be a tantalizing set of games. Let's enjoy spring as it should be enjoyed in Montreal.


1 comment:

  1. What a great article we have here. How come you guys haven't been employed by newspapers yet?

    Here's something to get you pumped up ( Do you remember the historic comeback against the Rangers? Sure, most of the players are gone, but it still sends shivers down the spine... If New York leads the series at some point, we should all watch this video to get a good shot of hope!