Rabid Habs

The Forum: The First Round… So Far

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Tha Habs and Rangers are knotted up at two games apiece in this first round of the NHL playoffs and so we check in with our contributors to find out what their main takeaways are through the first four games of the series.

 

Ian Boisvert (@Boisvertian) – I’ll start with the Rangers by saying that Henrik Lundqvist and Rick Nash have been their best players. Lundqvist seems to have shaken his Montreal woes, and Nash seems to be a one man machine (I say one man machine because, to be honest, I’m not super impressed with anyone else on that team).

I think if you’re a Rangers fan, you have to want more from Derek Stepan and Mika Zibanejad. Habs fans complain about the centre depth on this team, but New York’s two best centres have been complete no shows.

The Canadiens on the other hand have several individual performances to be proud of, but Brendan Gallagher has to be at the top of the list. Ray Ferraro said it best in game four. Gallagher is back to doing what he does best; getting his nose real close to the ice and driving the puck into the crease. To be honest, Gallagher’s entire line has been a force, which brings me to my next point.

Who is this Tomas Plekanec, and will he let me use the time machine he found? Plekanec is doing his best Lars Eller impression by being a ghost for most of the regular season and saving his best hockey for the playoffs. What a pleasant surprise he’s been for this team.

I think the Canadiens only have one bad player left in their lineup, and that is undoubtedly Dwight King. The game seems to slow down when he’s got the puck, but not in a good way. Somehow, King has been given great opportunities to score but he’s squandered them all.

And while I think he’s played decent hockey, the Canadiens need more from Max Pacioretty. He doesn’t need a hat trick. Hell, he doesn’t even need a goal. Another “put the team on my back” moment like we saw in game two’s overtime frame will do wonders for this team.

Robert Brown (@TheStandardBob) – Tied 2-2, best of 3 series from here on in. Who do I take? Unfortunately, I think I’m leaning towards ‎the Rangers because of Lundqvist. He’s the reason why the Habs aren’t up 3-1.

I remain confident. Of the 4 games we’ve played, I don’t think we’ve overly relied on Carey Price. The Byron-Plekanec-Gallagher line remains brilliant on a consistent basis. Thatline will have to continue their performance if we want to win the series.

I really want Montreal to win this series, but I don’t think it’s likely because of Hank’s outstanding play. But who said Price can’t play just as well if not better?

Zach Vanasse (ZachDropsTweets) – SCORCHING HOT TAKE ALERT! Here’s the question I’ve been asking my fellow Habs fans these last couple of days: Has Carey Price ever truly stolen a playoff game?

I’m not saying Carey’s been bad or even mediocre. He’s been good, really good. He’s got a .942 save percentage through the first four games, so we’ve got nothing to complain about except…I’m still waiting for Carey Price, the most dominant goalie of his generation, to take over and single-handedly win a playoff game for the Habs, one they don’t deserve to win, like Game 4.

Again, Carey Price has been really good. But if the Canadiens are going to do real damage in these playoffs, at some point, we’re going to need our best player to be great.

Kyle Roussel (@kyleroussel) – I’m waiting for the guys who are paid to score, to score. Radulov is exempt, and to an extent, so is Weber, who has been fantastic. Everyone else who we expect to score goals needs to start putting the puck in the net starting in game 5. I don’t want to hear anything about shots, attempts, chances, corsi, or some other data point meant to illicit a shrug and “they just got unlucky” apology. I get it. They’re trying. But in a short playoff series, impact players need to make a tangible impact.

I agree about King. I hoped and expected better from a guy who has played on some very successful Kings teams. I would have hoped some of that would have followed him to Montreal, but it looks like his heart was left in L.A.

I’m happy with the D-corps, aside from a couple of hiccups that I don’t expect to see repeated.

Price has been really good, but he’s not been the better goalie in this series so far. If the Habs are going to win the series, I think that has to change.

Ian Bosivert (@Boisvertian) – You’re right, Zach. We haven’t seen the “Carey Price against the world” game yet, and that could be an issue. When your goalie is Carey Price, you sort of expect him to steal you a game when your team is flat. I think he tried his best in game four, but the Habs were too flat, although I think he should have stopped Nash’s goal.

I think you nailed it though. He hasn’t been a detriment to the team, but he hasn’t been “destroyer of worlds” Carey Price yet.

Sean O’Neill (@TheONeillFactor) – For a few years now, I’ve thought the Rangers were the model for what this iteration of the Habs were most likely to evolve into; a perennial playoff team anchored by a Hall of Fame-calibre goaltender who may be cursed to be good but not *quite good enough to win it all.

This particular Rangers team is especially frustrating because they can look like the best team in the NHL on some nights and a complete dud on others. New York probably has more talent on their roster top-to-bottom but, as good as Henrik is, he’s no Price.

Henrik and Price have been, as everyone’s expected, the linchpins to this series. In another non-shocker, the Habs lack of secondary scoring has been a major issue.

As mentioned, Plekanec and Gallagher have performed well after underwhelming regular seasons, Jordie Benn continues to make the case that he should be protected in the expansion draft, and Alexander Radulov continues to make the case for a long-term extension.

Captain Pacioretty, meanwhile, has been utterly invisible. It’s entirely possible that he rebounds with 5 goals in his next 3 games, but it’s equally possible that he runs a charismatic teammate out of town this offseason.

Zach Vanasse (@ZachDropsTweets) – Ian, I appreciate you agreeing with me, and in that spirit of teamship (real word), I would like to disagree with Sean.

Through four games of this series, I’ve come to believe, top to bottom, the Montreal Canadiens actually have the slightly better team. I didn’t think that to be the case before the series, but that’s because I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the Rangers roster as of late.

There was a time when the New York Rangers line-up was packed with big names (though they often underachieved), but who’s left in New York now that really instills fear?

Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, and Henrik Lundqvist have been about it for the Blueshirts in this series. I mean, Tanner Glass scored the game winner in Game 1. These are not the Rangers of a few years ago anymore.

This is a team looking to players like Ryan McDonagh, Chris Kreider, JT Miller, Mike Zibanejad, and Derek Stepan carry them through. Those guys are fine to good, but it’s not as though Montreal doesn’t have as much, if not more, talent on the roster.

The Canadiens should win this series if Hank doesn’t steal it. And if it looks like he’s going to, we need Carey to counter with his own thievery.

Will Harte (@willharte) – OK, so I missed game 4 and had to catch the lowlights on Twitter courtesy of both the Habs press corps and equally insightful Zach and Ian. Still, I think I’ve seen enough of Montreal and New York over the past week (along with much of the action in Anaheim, St. Louis and Nashville) to confidently state… that I’m not sure how this thing is going to end. By “this thing,” I mean not just this first round match-up between the Canadiens and Rangers, but also the 2016-17 season and the return of Coach Claude Julien, whose second tenure behind the bench in the Bell Centre began on February 14th. To be honest, at this point I don’t think it’s going to end well. But I’m a pessimist when it comes to hockey thanks to growing up a Bruins fan in the 70s after those two Cups had already been won.

Anyhow, do the Habs have what it takes to take 2 out of the next 3 games from NY? Certainly, assuming Carey Price, who is averaging a .942 save percentage so far, improves upon his solid play in net while Montreal’s skaters recover from an abysmal 33% possession on Tuesday (compared with 75% in that 3-1 thriller on Sunday) and resume putting pucks on Lundqvist. King Henrik has been marginally better than Prince Carey, but only because Montreal’s shot selection has often been mediocre, with far too few attempts coming from the slot. That will have to change in Game 5 and beyond if we are to have hopes of advancing. Who needs to produce those attempts? Well, Max Pacioretty, naturally, but also every other top 6 forward wearing a Habs sweater. Shoot the puck, for crying out loud!

The best surprise so far in this series has been Shea Weber, of course. His presence has been massive, both in terms of his physical play and what he brings to 5v4 in terms of offensive threat. Another standout has been Tomas Plekanec, whose focus and drive here have belied his age and his regular season stats. And it’s been nice to see Alex Galchenyuk turn it on, impress his coach, and move up from the 4th line all the way (or so it is rumored) to the 1st. Finally, I continue to be wowed by Arturri Lehkonen, who is a superstar in the making.

But the degree to which these guys–along with brave Brendan Gallagher, the reliable Torrey Mitchell, and a stoic Jeff Petry–have shone against New York is in part a function of lackluster performances from Pacioretty, Andrew Shaw, Paul Byron and even Alex Radulov. Time to step it up, fellas! I, for one, refuse to blame the likes of Steve Ott and Dwight King for Montreal’s offensive woes. After all, those guys are not on the ice because of their scoring prowess or their skating ability.

As for New York, Rick Nash has been a beast and will have to be contained, as will Pavel Buchnevich, who to my mind is the Rangers’ secret weapon. If he plays again in game 5 and gets a little more than the 10:20 ice time he had in game 4, watch out. As I said, I’m a pessimist.

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