Given the number of debates that I have engaged in since a certain game happened in the Montreal Canadiens' 2010-11 season, and the explosion of further debate on the same topic since two games with a similar result occurred in the 2013 season, I thought I would present an overall analysis of why these games played out the way they did.
Let's begin with February 9, 2011 game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins, or as some have come to very inaccurately term it, "The Boston Beatdown". This was a game that ended 8-6 in Boston's favour in what was arguably the worst defensive game the Canadiens ever played with Jacques Martin as their head coach. This was one of the matches that heavily sparked the renewed rivalry between Boston and Montreal that had been cooling somewhat until a series of games in 2011 that made it the fiercest rivalry in the NHL.
This was a far more entertaining game for Montreal fans than the two others I will examine in the coming days, but as someone who has always hated sloppy defence and had to review the scoring top-to-bottom, it is hardly a game I look back on as a good one for Montreal. Especially for the ongoing debate about the need for fighters on the team.
1st Boston Goal: This opens the video at 0:00.
- The Bruins take control of possession in their own zone and the play begins with a breakout by Brad Marchand through the neutral zone, who passes to Mark Recchi as they gain the offensive zone against Montreal. The Canadiens forwards are behind the play and have failed to pick up the backcheck in time.
- Recchi, who is defended by Roman Hamrlik, is given too much space and sets up a drop-pass to Patrice Bergeron, who Scott Gomez has failed to backcheck in quick enough order, who sends the puck forward to Brad Marchand, who James Wisniewski has failed to cover adequately.
- The result is a backhand by Marchand into the net and a 1-0 lead for Boston.
2nd Boston Goal: Starting at 0:58 on the video.
- Scott Gomez loses the centre ice faceoff to David Krejci and the pass goes back to Dennis Seidenberg who sends it into Montreal's zone.
- P.K. Subban whiffs on sending the puck back out and manages to fall down at the same time. Seidenberg collects the puck himself and sends it ahead to Nathan Horton who gains the zone and generates a shot on goal.
- Carey Price gets the save but the rebound goes right out to Seidenberg, who almost cruises right between Gomez and Subban to make it a 2-0 game for Boston.
2nd Period: Boston leads 2-0.
3rd Boston Goal: Starting at 2:49 on the video.
- Johnny Boychuk gains possession in Boston's own zone, and he bounces it off the boards forward to Nathan Horton, who turns and forwards the puck to Milan Lucic, who begins a breakout into the neutral zone with David Krejci following in support.
- Lucic gains Montreal's zone unchallenged and immediately passes off to Krejci who holds the puck just above the faceoff circle in the offensive zone. Krejci shakes off pressure from Wisniewski rather easily and sends the puck to the far point and a waiting Adam McQuaid. McQuaid skates the puck in mostly unchallenged as Andrei Kostitsyn is late in picking up his assignment.
- McQuaid gets a shot off, but the shot deflects out almost immediately. A passing Kostitsyn and Roman Hamrlik both fail to make a decent reach for the puck, now in Lucic's skates, who gains possession and shifts it to a mostly uncovered Horton, who sees a wide-open McQuaid while dodging both Scott Gomez and Jeff Halpern (both too late in their realization that Horton has possession), and passes the puck to McQuaid.
- McQuaid shoots again and this time the Bruins take a 3-2 lead.
4th Boston Goal: This begins at 4:31 on the video.
- This starts at a familiar place if you remember goal number two, a centre-ice faceoff just after a goal, albeit this time a goal by Montreal for a tie game at 3-3. The faceoff sends the puck back into Montreal's zone and Yannick Weber wins the race to pick it up and flip it forward into the neutral zone.
- It is caught by Jeff Halpern, who gloves it down to the ice but immediately gets caught in a battle along the boards with Zach Hamill, Lars Eller will come in to assist and soon Blake Wheeler gets involved as well. Halpern wins the battle and sends the puck to Tom Pyatt, perched just over the Canadiens defensive line, who skates the puck back into his own zone and passes it once more to Yannick Weber who attempts to begin an offensive rush.
- Weber sends the puck up through the neutral zone to two Canadiens players waiting near the Boston zone, but they miss gaining possession and the puck skips in to the Boston end along the boards. Lars Eller and Jeff Halpern give pursuit, but fail to beat Andrew Ference, who rings the puck along the boards to McQuaid, who skates the puck a moment in his own end and sends a pass into the neutral zone to Wheeler.
- Wheeler in the neutral zone is covered by Yannick Weber, but he is too far from Wheeler to affect anything, so Wheeler feeds Zach Hamill just as he crosses into the Canadiens' zone and heads straight towards the net.
- Halpern and Spacek are close behind Hamill and successfully cut him off, but both of them fail to cut off his back-pass to Michael Ryder, who has Tom Pyatt significantly trailing behind him and is completely unchallenged in front, so he dekes and makes it a 4-3 game for Boston.
5th Boston Goal: This begins at 5:44 on the video.
- The play begins with a defensive zone exit with Milan Lucic carrying possession. He passes to Nathan Horton, who takes possession just as they gain the offensive zone.
- Hal Gill is covering Lucic, but fails to either physically stop him or use his stick to break up the play. Horton holds onto possession and shifts the puck to Lucic, who now Gill and P.K. Subban are both attempting to cover from close in. They fail to stop him from getting a shot off, but the rushed shot misses the net wide and hits the backboard, coming out on Price's stick side. Horton is the first to retrieve the puck and skates it back, sending it to the point where Steven Kampfer is waiting.
- Kampfer gets off a point-shot, but it fails to get through. It bounces out and Scott Gomez gains possession and attempts to dump it out, but Horton blocks it off and sends the puck further in. Gomez picks up the shoot-in attempt and lobs it out to the neutral zone, where it is intercepted by Dennis Seidenberg, who shoots the puck off the far boards in the neutral zone and the bounce takes it right to David Krejci who gains the Canadiens zone.
- Krejci sends a pass right to Nathan Horton, who has about 10 feet of space all around him as he receives the puck and fires a shot on goal. Price gets the save but Lucic, who is also completely uncovered picks up the rebound and deposits it into the back of the net well before anyone can do anything.
1st Scrum Occurs: This begins at 6:55 on the video. The Habs have given up five goals now, all on plays that started outside of their zone, including three that began in the Bruins defensive zone and their coverage has been terrible for all five of them. Frustration has kicked off hostilities.
- No full-out fights among players, but Price and Thomas engage. Price leverages Thomas off his skates but refrains from hitting Thomas while he was down. A consideration that certain Bruins would not give later on.
6th Boston Goal: This begins at 8:42 on the video.
- For the first time in this game, the goal against results from an in-zone play by Boston following a defensive faceoff in the Canadiens' own end.
- A faceoff win for Tomas Plekanec sends the back to the back boards, Jaroslav Spacek retrieves the puck, but checking by Nathan Horton causes him to lose the puck, which rolls along the boards. Lars Eller tries to pick the puck up along the half wall but Andrew Ference knocks the puck loose towards the back boards where it is retrieved by Yannick Weber.
- Weber tries to slip the puck past Milan Lucic but fails, Lucic sends the puck back to Horton who is waiting along the half wall and takes possession. Horton stickhandles and slips away from Plekanec and Weber who are trying to contain him, but he gains enough space to send the puck to Lucic, who is not covered and sitting in the faceoff circle waiting for the puck. Lucic releases a heavy shot that takes the game to a score of 6-4 for Boston.
3rd Period: Boston Leads 6-4.
7th Boston Goal: This begins at 11:16 on the video.
- On a Boston powerplay, Price picks up the puck behind his own net and fires it just pass the blue line to clear the zone. Plekanec knocks down Seidenberg in pursuit of the puck and retrieves it, then dishes to Tom Pyatt on his wing. Pyatt tries to take possession but the puck is knocked away by Steve Kampfer into Boston's own zone, where Brad Marchand is waiting.
- Marchand gains possession, but has it knocked away by a pursuing Tom Pyatt. Pyatt retrieves the puck along the half-wall, who Marchand chases down and battles for the puck with him. Marchand wins the battle and begins the defensive zone breakout for Boston. He takes it the length of the neutral zone and gains the offensive zone entry, skating around Jeff Halpern's attempt to check him as he takes the puck in along the boards. Subban meets Marchand head on and checks him into the boards, but Marchand manages to dish the puck back to the point, where it is picked up by Steve Kampfer.
- Kampfer picks the puck up and sends a cross-ice pass to Dennis Seidenberg, who sends it forward to Michael Ryder who has space all around him in the high slot as no one has picked up the assignment on him. Ryder holds possession for a moment before lifting the puck high and making it a 7-5 game for Boston.
8th Boston Goal:
- The final goal begins on another defensive-zone breakout by the Bruins. Nathan Horton retrieves the puck in his own end and passes the puck to David Krejci just as he gets into the neutral zone. Krejci dodges Hal Gill's attempt to meet him at the Canadiens' blue line and dishes the puck to Nathan Horton who drives straight to the net.
- David Desharnais attempts to backcheck on Horton but fails to make an impact, P.K. Subban tries to get his stick on the puck but is already matched against Lucic trying to box him out from a possible rebound attempt. Concerns about a rebound are unnecessary as the shot beats Price clean and the Bruins take an 8-6 lead in the game.
2nd Scrum occurs: Starts at 13:11 on the video. The Canadiens have now allowed eight goals, a season high, and tempers are likely boiling over and Boston is probably a little upset they have allowed five of their own.
- The only fight from this scrum is Benoit Pouliot engaging David Krejci, which is one of the most unlikely fight cards you have probably ever heard of. Pouliot drops Krejci to the ice with one punch and the fight is effectively ended. To this point, the Canadiens have won both fights resulting from scrums.
3rd Scrum occurs: This begins at 13:50 on the video. Travis Moen and Andrew Ference drop the gloves. Moen gets more punches in and at Hockeyfights.com, Moen is awarded the decision. To this point, the Canadiens have now won all three fights to occur in the game and this was the only one where a Bruin even landed a punch on a Canadiens skater.
- The loss apparently touches off some dislike by the Bruins for losing all the fights in the game despite having a three-goal lead with 40 seconds left in the game.
- Shawn Thornton attacks a 36-year old Roman Hamrlik, Johnny Boychuk grabs a hold of a 36-year old Jaroslav Spacek and Gregory Campbell figures rookie Tom Pyatt is due for his first NHL fight.
- The Bruins fighters easily win each of these fights as can be predicted, since they specifically targeted 3 non-fighters, two of them in the twilight of careers that before that day, had a combined 9 career fights in the NHL including preseason. It was a targeted attack and any future response in a later game with a similar effort would have likely led to just more bloody escalation of both sides trying to eliminate each other's non-fighters. Hardly productive and certainly not befitting of the jersey.
- Bad defence and some bad goaltending were the root causes of this affair. The Canadiens did not have proper defensive discipline from the start of the game, and as the goals piled up, Price showed he clearly was not at his best. But I would say the defence is more at fault for so often allowing the Bruins to complete end-to-end offensive rushes and put pucks in the back of the net. Only two of the goals scored by the Bruins were not from the genesis of the Bruins beginning on an offensive drive from their own zone.
- Six times in this game, the Canadiens failed to disrupt a three-zone drive by the Bruins that ended with a goal against.
- On the fight card: The balance was 3-0 in favour of the Canadiens until this third scrum, a circus of horrible defensive coverage leading to tempers flaring and a line brawl. Some of the Bruins physical skaters decided that they might as well get their licks in since the game was won for them and the Canadiens had so far beaten them up on the fight card.
- This all happened with less than a minute remaining in a game that featured some of the worst defensive coverage you will ever see in an NHL game. If the combined goals of this game hadn't added up to this writer's shoe size, likely none of this mess occurs. If the Habs had even locked down enough to prevent two of these goals, no such foolishness would have happened.
- Carey Price could have been better in this game as well and perhaps if he had been, the score does not go out of control either, but again, this was a result of a team that could not keep the puck out of the net all night and frustration on both sides from a high-scoring game resulting in some early scrums that led to some embarrassing losses in fights by Bruins players.
- This is a game to remind everyone of why sound defensive coverage is so important; to prevent such theatrics, you need to keep the game under control. Out-of-control scoring leads to all aspects of the game likely coming undone. The final scrum came more in a revenge measure as the Bruins seemed to be taking serious issue with losing each fight that had occurred to that point of the game.
- Had the Canadiens had some enforcers available to put on the ice for that last scrum, arguably we are not obsessing over this game more than two years after the fact, but given the depths that Buffalo has sunk to trying to create a physical match against the Bruins, one would argue it is a counter-productive step.
- Boston's tactical nature towards picking a window to 'goon' an opponent is not something a team can readily prepare against and reshaping one's roster just to match against one team's occasionally-used tactic is a poor way to build a winning hockey team.