Extended Game Recap: Regression sucks, especially against Boston
It's funny how quickly fan perceptions change, and how often these perceptions are really, really bad. Lots of people are overreacting to the loss last night, so it's my job to explain why you shouldn't.
It sucks to lose against the Boston Bruins. There is no way around it. It feels gross when it happens, and honestly is should, because they're the Boston Bruins.
Going into the game, the talk was all about how this game was a test for the Montreal Canadiens. Are they actually good? Or were they just facing bad teams? If today was a test, a lot of fans think the Habs failed it. Then again, a lot of fans don't understand anything but the win and loss columns. They didn't fail at all. They lost, but they lost in a game that could have gone either way based on some lucky bounces.
The fact is, the Habs have been lucky to start this season. There's no two ways about it. They've been dominant, but they've been lucky too. Eventually a game was going to happen where they didn't get those goals in the first period, and it happened to be against the Bruins.
The Habs beat Rask 3 times in the opening frame, only to see the shot trickle wide or go over the top of the net. A few more instances like that in the third period and Tuukka Rask was given the first star of the game. Was Rask actually the first star? No.
I was lucky enough to be at the game, something I didn't know was happening until about 7:00PM. My wife and father in law cooked up a surprise early birthday gift, and theactivestick had me thinking we were going to her place for the game. From the awesome vantage point of the Bell Centre, you get a much better view of the game than on TV, and one player stood out more than anyone else: Patrice Bergeron.
I don't want to get too gushy here, but I'm not sure there's another player in the league who plays like Bergeron does. The support he gives to his defensemen is otherworldly. If he wasn't such a damn good center, I'd be willing to bet he could be a first pairing defenseman. The guy was all over the place all night.
One thing that always gets me about watching the Bruins play is their puck support. Someone is always open in the defensive zone. Always. There isn't a team in the league that clears the defensive zone as easily as Boston. Their forwards make it incredibly easy on their defensemen, a group that outside of Zdeno Chara is below league average.
Even the way the Bruins practiced in the pregame warmup was all about passing and puck support. It's something the Canadiens had sorely lacked over the last 5 or so years, and they aren't at Boston's level there yet, but I think they're getting there.
Someone on twitter last night noted that Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Markov are keys to the Canadiens success (true), but that they both had awful games (laughably false). Apparently Plekanec was a big scapegoat for the game, and I guess when you flub a clear breakaway that's bound to happen with fans who see singular moments as more important than the rest of the game, but it's foolish.
Plekanec's line was victimized on both goals, but where this game was lost was the whole team starting the 3rd period asleep, and not capitalizing on chances. Yes, Plekanec's line was on for both goals, but the first 5 minutes of the third period the Bruins were cutting the Habs up in their own zone, no passes through the middle were getting intercepted, it was embarrassingly bad. That the Plekanec line was on for both goals against doesn't mean much.
In fact Plekanec's line was excellent for nearly the entire game, and so were the Canadiens in truth. Two things really stood out to me while watching live, both stemming from one fact: Therrien was outcoached by Julien last night. This isn't necessarily a knock on Therrien, Julien is an excellent coach, and it's to be expected that Therrien can't win every game. But these were the two big areas:
- The Alex Galchenyuk line isn't working anymore. It was fun while the percentages were going their way, but Brandon Prust doesn't provide the protection necessary for the two kids to survive defensively against a top team. If we were facing the Sabres every game, go for it, but not against the Bruins. This was especially obvious on one play where Francis Bouillon iced the puck under zero pressure, which enabled the Bruins to get Chara out against Galchenyuk, Prust, and Brendan Gallagher. A full minute of domination ensued off of the defensive zone faceoff. It didn't bite them on the scoreboard tonight, but that's enough of that. Put Eller on the left wing there and be done with it, Prust is a 4th liner in truth. Therrien made the Eller adjustment in the 3rd period, but it was too little too late for today's game. Hopefully that change lasts for tomorrow.
- Raphael Diaz, your mojo is gone. Diaz got a lot of praise to open the season with some solid offensive production, but he's not a tough minutes defenseman. He doesn't compliment Josh Gorges well, and they are getting shelled for it regularly. I counted 5 times in the game where Diaz had a chance to take possession of the puck, played it safe, and allowed the Bruins to enter the zone without a care in the world. That's not good enough. It's about time Gorges gets P.K. Subban back and we stop messing around on the second pairing.
Speaking of Subban, what a game from him. And I don't mean that entirely positively. I mean I'm mostly positive, he was dominant in play and scored the only goal for the Habs, and cost me $10 bucks. Fans booed his late game penalty but it was so obvious. The funny part was that the refs got the call wrong. Subban gave Bourque a nice heavy slash, but it wasn't a trip.
It's weird to sit around and nitpick in a game where the Habs matched a top team, but that's the way it's going to be I suppose. There will always be little things to complain about, but the Montreal Canadiens are 6-3 after 9 games, and if tonight's game was truly a test, it looks like they're for real.