How The Canadiens Could Upset The Capitals: A Followup


There is a great, but surely long lost interview clip with Phil Esposito of the Boston Bruins, immediately after his team's elimination at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens and an out-of-this-world Ken Dryden from the 1971 Quarter - Finals.

In the clip, Esposito, obviously frustrated by Dryden's prowess that spring, was asked to comment on the Canadiens goaltender's performance. That season, Espo obliterated the NHL goal scoring mark of 58 goals by Chicago's Bobby Hull, counting the hithero ridiculous total of 76.

Esposito, as emotional a competitor as the game has ever seen, was as stymied for a description of what Dryden had done as he was by the goalie's saves in the series. Lost in a state of absolute disbelief, Esposito described the tallish and lanky Dryden as having "arms like giraffe."

It was then noted to Phil that the giraffe species was known for their rather particularly long necks, and that proportionately, their arms were quite short.

The quote was classic testament as to how a hot playoff goalie can get into a sniper's head.

Goalies can do that, and so can teams.

With that in mind, here's a post game clip of Alex Ovechkin's comments on Jaroslav Halak that I've just watched at, immediately following Game Six.

Two quotes from the clip jump forth, telling in so many words that Ovie is more than flustered.

"I think we play great, we just didn't score. It's only one guy that makes them alive."

Sorry Ovie, but Halak didn't build up a 3-0 lead.

Upon being asked "now that you have blown a 3-1 lead, how is the team's confidence?", Ovechkin reiterates that the Capitals are playing great, but just aren't scoring."

So there you have it, the Caps sniper has not tapped into what the Canadiens as a unit are doing to allow Halak to be so successful in the last two games.

That's nothing but a good thing for the Canadiens.

But with the Capitals, things could also change dramatically fast.

Seeing as where the series is at now, I thought it would be interesting to look back on the article written here 14 days ago on April 13, titled "How The Canadiens Could Upset The Capitals"

When I composed it, I did not put a great deal of emphasis on goaltenders stealing games singlehandedly, as it is almost a playoff given when it comes to upsets. Instead, the piece focused on how a David slays a Goliath, and what the Canadiens themselves could control.

Regardless of the result of Game Seven, some points brought up have added merit six games in.

Being that Washington play an open style, Martin must exploit that ideal in convincing his players, not that they should try to run and gun with them at every step, but that there will be game situations aplenty in which they will have opportunity to pounce. Montreal's greatest asset can be its speed if used timely and wisely, and against Washington, the team has to believe it can work its way to wins. Once Martin has accomplished building his team's confidence, then and only then can he sell the plan.

This has happened, and the Game One win was pivotal in making it happen. The Capitals run and gun style, and the weakness of their defense are and were exploitable. In six games so far, the Canadiens have scored first four times, and have gone on to win three of those games. The first game win enabled confidence in the underdog, and Martin, despite a setback or three, is selling his ideals to players. The last two games are testament they are buying in.

It starts with placing an intense effort on the forcheck. Many of the Canadiens best games this season have come from the effects of a rabid puck pursuit pressure, and it would go to great lengths in nipping Capital offense starting in their zone.

In short, the Caps take wild risks. They have continued to do so, with Ovechkin as a mid-ice cherry picker not always serving team needs well. Montreal's sustained pressure in the Washington zone might not be the full-force onslought that is the Capitals pressure in the Canadiens end, but Montreal is positioned to expect it and counter it, whereas Washington are all over the map.

Noting what could bring about frustration, aggravation and irritability in the Capitals is a large part of the game plan. What else do elite team's hate more than an opponent that shows no respect for them?

Proud teams, those of the elite variety, tend to hate having their feathers ruffled, gloves shoved into their faces, and constant after the whistle hassles. They react vehemently at those getting under their skin, and will retalliate and become undisciplined. If the Canadiens can succeed in being thorns in the faces of their foes, it could go a long way towards unbalancing the flow of the Capital's game.

Admittedly, this did not begin to unfold until the series was a few games old, but it is building, and the Capitals are taking a number of penalties out of frustration. With the Canadiens power play working at a much better rate than that of the Capitals, it is a battle that Montreal are winning over their less disciplined rivals.

The first order of the day for coach Jacques Martin, would be to get his troops minds around the Capitals and the team they are. If in preparations for the series, there is a continuous focus that dwells too long and hard on all of the Capitals firepower and potential devastation, it will only serve to lessen the Canadiens' perceptions of themselves. Too much "all about them" and not enough focus on the Habs virtues will quickly gain the player's heads. No team beats another they are in awe of. If Montreal approaches games believing that the first order of business is to concern themselves with Capital limitation, then they are taking to the ice, mentally down 2-0.

The Canadiens have certainly paid credence to the Capitals capabilities, but not at the detriment of their own confidence. Case in point, if the Habs felt the series was over before it began, they would not have been confident enough to have taken the lead in four of six games played so far.

The best news in this is, that while the Canadiens surely respect the Capitals potent for gunpowder deployment, they do not sit in awe of them. The Habs have an atuned understanding of the Washington weaknesses, as well as a unfaltering belief in their own abilities.

In hindsight, it seems that Montreal started the series with that mindset, and with three wins against them now under their belt in this round, they will be approaching Game Seven on even ground.

Not as underdogs.

Not with nothing to lose.

But with everything on the line, against a team they know they can beat, and have beaten, in their own building.

Like them odds better than you did fourteen days ago?

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