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Canadiens vs Bruins 2014 playoffs Game 3 preview

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Back in Montreal to start a best of 5 series, can the Habs use home ice to get a leg up on Boston?

Jared Wickerham

The Montreal Canadiens are through two games of their Second Round series against the Boston Bruins, and it's played out as many would have expected prior to the matchup getting underway.

The Bruins have played like President's Trophy winners. They've summited the 60% Fenwick close plateau in both Games 1 and 2, moving the puck into the Habs' zone with ease and consistently creating high quality scoring chances.  When the Habs do get the puck back in their own zone, they can't get it out, and when the stage is set for the Habs to put the puck on Tuukka Rask, they haven't been able to generate much.

Yes, the Canadiens should have won Game 2 once up two goals, but frankly, they never deserved to be in that position. Jarring as it was, that five minute stretch in which Boston pulled themselves back into this series was nothing more than the hockey universe righting itself in a quick and dramatic fashion.

Acknowledging the above, there'a reason that this series is tied, and that Montreal isn't in the 2-0 hole they dug themselves. P.K. Subban and Carey Price have taken the team on their backs, playing to the very top of their formidable talents and keeping their team afloat as the two best players on the ice, so far. Subban has been the Habs best hope in the defensive zone, and has done so while adding another four points to his total in two games against Boston. His total sum, of nine points in six post-season games, places Pernell 4th in the league in playoff scoring as of Sunday morning. Price, meanwhile, is yet to allow a goal where the puck has been visible, and has made a number of highly-visible, game-saving stops. Let's take a moment to enjoy this one again:

The Habs' best players have been the series' best players, and for that reason only, the Canadiens are returning to Montreal with a chance to stake their claim to a favourable series outcome.

The Canadiens have two major issues so far: offence and defence. Hyperbole aside, however, both issues should be fixable. In reviewing those problems, let's start with what's been an ongoing issue.

The Canadiens' vaunted first line of Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, and Thomas Vanek have been swallowed up by Chargeron, the Bruins' all-world defensive combination of centre Patrice Bergeron and defenceman Zdeno Chara. The Habs' trio started a cushy 86% of their shifts in the offensive zone, but despite this, only Desharnais was on the ice for at least as many shot attempts for as against. Vanek earned CBC's second star on Saturday, honouring his momentous and unprecedented achievement of standing in front of the net while Subban put pucks in his wheelhouse, but don't take that as any indication of the line's effectiveness. Heading back to Montreal, the Canadiens need to make a change.

Option 1 is breaking up the line, likely putting Vanek back on his natural left side to ride shotgun to Tomas Plekanec. This would ensure that the Bruins can't neutralize the Habs' two best weapons by loading up with their own simultaneously, theoretically allowing the Habs to generate some pressure with at least one of those talented wingers. Option 2 is for Michel Therrien keep his lines together, but to put aside his aversion to line matching. Chargeron's propensity for big TOI totals mean that Therrien doing everything he can to get 67-51-20 away from 37-33 is no guarantee of success, but regardless, it remains an avenue by which MT can use last change to maximize his team's chances of success.

Goaltending heroics aside, the Canadiens' have struggled in their own end, too. In the First Round, the Lightning seemed incapable of sustaining pressure on Montreal ice, as a series of one-and-done rushes resulted in little offensive threat. The Boston series has been the polar opposite, as the Bruins have practically lived in front of the Canadiens' goaltender. One reason for this is the Habs inability to clear the puck on their first try, as their forward corps has suffered an epidemic of soft clearing plays, leading in turn to a number of debilitating second chances for the Bruins. As Christopher Boucher explains in two insightful articles (links here and here), the Habs defence has been no less effective when it comes to getting the puck to the forwards tasked with supporting them. As Boucher's chart shows, the Habs forwards have been almost universally less successful when it comes to getting the puck out of their zone.


Whether it's the wingers being in position to accept a clearing pass, the centres being in position to support those wingers when a Bruins defenceman challenges them, or the forwards choosing the simple "off the glass and out" approach when no other option exists, Montreal needs to find a way to get better at getting into the neutral zone.

Whether the Habs are able to get out of their defensive zone may determine if they're able to get out of this series.