Turnovers and Screens Lead to Canadiens Demise
The city of Montreal was abuzz on the night of June 28th, as their beloved Montreal Canadiens were all the way in Tampa Bay trying to take a pivotal Game 1 in the Stanley Cup Finals. As I mentioned in my earlier series preview article, the team known in Quebec as “Les Habitants” were facing their toughest task yet in the playoffs, coming face-to-face with the lethal Lightning and their squad of hitmen known as Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy.
What I saw in Game 1 was unlike anything I’d ever seen from the Habs all playoffs long. Aside from Josh Anderson and Brendan Gallagher, most of the team looked tired and dejected. I say this because I didn’t see a lot of fight coming from the Canadiens when things got a bit rough. The Habs prided themselves on protecting Carey Price and the front of the net in these playoffs, but I rarely saw that tonight, as Tampa was continuously creating havoc in front of Price, leading to a lot of scoring chances and ultimately, goals.
When the Canadiens star goaltender has a clear view of the shot, he is going to stop it 10 times out of 10. The Lightning understood this, and I give major kudos to head coach Jon Cooper who implemented a game plan centered on obstructing Carey’s view. As we saw, Tampa scored five goals like this, and if we didn’t have such a great goalie in the net, they probably would have potted more in.
What concerned me the most was the amount of extra-curricular activity happening in front of Price after the whistle had gone. I could count many a time a Tampa player was within inches of Carey Price’s face after the whistle. If the Canadiens want any chance of winning a game in this series, that has to change immediately. You cannot have the opposition lingering around your goalie after the whistle. This shows that the defense isn’t doing their job properly and that the goalie was being screened heavily the play prior.
Both these scenarios would lead to the Canadiens allowing more goals than they should. What they have to go back to doing is clearing the front of the net. That means that whichever player from the other side comes within a three-meter radius of the blue paint in the goal-crease, they are going to have to pay for it. Even if this means taking a penalty, you have to send a message to Tampa that the front of the net is off-limits.
Another issue I saw was that the Canadiens were not crashing the net as much. Most of their shot attempts came from the outside, allowing Vasilevskiy to easily get a save on the play. The lone goal they did score was when we had two players in front screening the Tampa netminder.
If the Canadiens want to see more goals in their future, they don’t have to ask a Magic 8-Ball where to find them. All they need to do is get bodies to the front of the net and make Vasilevskiy’s life as hard as possible. The Russian net-minder is very similar to Price when it comes to playing style. Both goalies are laterally blessed, have an immense puck vision, and are arguably unable to be beaten by a clean shot at the net. The only way to beat them is to get screens and deflections going in front of the net.
Another area of concern regarding the Habs was their speed in tonight’s game. Like I said earlier, it looked as if they had no gas in the tank for many parts of the game. In saying that, I did feel like Josh Anderson brought a grittiness and intensity similar to Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals in tonight’s game. Anderson was everywhere, flying into the corners, laying the body, and creating scoring chances most of the game. If everybody on the Habs played with the same intensity tonight, we’d be looking at a much different outcome.
I know in the past couple of paragraphs I’ve been hard on my hometown team, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. This Game 1 is just that; one game. The Canadiens should study this game, realize where they went wrong, and fix it heading onwards in this series. It’s not the first time they have had their backs up against the wall, so they will have to channel that same energy and figure out how to fix this problem going forward.
As a Habs fan, I’ve seen some pretty rough stuff, experiencing some lows I don’t even want to talk about (I’m sure Sabres fans know where I’m coming from). Tonight, although we got beaten by a score of 5-1, they put up a valiant effort. It’s easy for fans to sit at home, watch a game, and telling everyone how you would’ve done better, but the truth is these are world-class athletes going out, performing, and trying to win every single game.
Tonight, the Canadiens didn’t have it; and that’s alright. Lest we forget they lost the first game in the Vegas series as well and look at how that turned out. My point is that there is no reason to panic. If the Canadiens follow three simple steps in the next game, I am positive they will come out on top.
The first thing they must do is calm down. Yes, you heard right, calm down. The Canadiens, probably high off of the adrenaline and emotions associated with being in a Stanley Cup final, looked as if they were all over the place. This led to them skating like chickens without heads, often leading to them turning the puck over, chasing the Lightning, and eventually fishing the puck out of the net. What they need to do is take a couple of deep breaths and focus on the game one shift at a time.
Second piece of advice I have for them is to not play Tampa’s game. The Lightning is notorious for laying the body and trying to get you to lose your composure. The Canadiens have been cool as cucumbers all playoffs long, but in tonight’s game, they looked frazzled and frustrated. In order to combat this they need to remain physical but stay away from the mind games Tampa is trying to play. Keeping their cool is what will save them in the long run.
Finally, my last piece of advice is to clear all the traffic in front of the net. Carey Price is the sole reason you are in this position, to begin with, so give the guy some help. If anyone with Blue and White colors comes near him you need to make sure he knows not to come back or thinks twice. This will send the message that the opposing players cannot just walk in and make trouble for your goalie. It will have to be earned the hard way.
All in all, it wasn’t as bad as most people say. Were there a lot of improvements that need to be made? Yes. The beauty of a series however is that it’s longer than one game, so if the Canadiens calm down and get back to playing how they normally do, they should be fine. Here’s to capturing #25.
Go Habs Go!