What's Up With These Habs? Who Are They, And Where Did They Come From?
Note: article slightly continued from previous "Habs Have Cups Champs On the Ropes"
The "Little Team That Could" is heading for a seventh game for a second time!
So much for the theory of team's full of small players not being able to pull out wins in the playoffs. You'll read Chris' comment below, and it's very true:
It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.
In that case, make these Habs the "Penguins' Little Bitches That Wouldn't Leave!"
Lead by two Mike Cammalleri goals the Canadiens have placed the Penguins victory plans on hold, with 3-2 sixth game win in front of a euphoric Bell Centre crowd.
Missing Hal Gill, out with a leg laceration, Jaroslav Spacek was inserted into the lineup, and contributed the Canadiens third goal late in the second period.
Maxim Lapierre added what looked to be an insurance marker midway throught the third period on a great individual effort, but Bill Guerin's late marker with Marc - Andre Fleury pulled for an extra attacker, made the Lapierre effort into the game winner.
The Canadiens are now 4-0 when facing elimination this post season.
You have to think that the Penguins by now are wondering just what hit them!
Stellar goaltending has stymied their top stars, opportunistic scoring at pivotal times is undoing their best laid plans, players fall to injury yet the replacements are of equal merit, and the team that stunned top seeded Washington simply has no quit. The Penguins did not want to be in a seventh game scenario with this type animal, and now they are entering the unimaginable.
Quite honestly, this writer is stunned, lost at times for superlatives and basic comprehension as to the miracle this Canadiens team seems to poised to pull off.
Few saw it coming, and even less believed when the Canadiens did a backward tiptoe into the playoffs, and as their successes accumulate,explanations coming fourth as to why the Habs have hung around are numerous in theory.
Obviously, there have been individual perfromances topping the list, starting with the three names most often mentioned.
Jaroslav Halak is putting on the type of goaltending show that has not been seen in Montreal in seventeen seasons. He's been solid almost every step of the way. Acrobatically zoned when shelled, Halak has rented room inside the NHL's best sniper's heads the past two rounds. As many in Montreal has witnessed before, performances of this kind usually end with a goalie hugging some lofty silverware.
Mike Cammalleri is scoring at a torrid pace. Eleven goals in 13 games, he's now matched what Vincent Damphousse last did....yes, seventeen seasons ago.
Hal Gill is hardly a name you'll ever find on a Norris ballot, but the man with the pterodactylian wingspan has developed a reputation as a human shield. He's been front row center for the frustrating of markee players, and making himself into one in the process.
Of course, these three are but corner pieces of a larger puzzle, but before going across that list, here's a few things to think about.
After defeating the Capitals in seven, it was said that the Washington backline had it's share of holes. In stretching the Penguins to seven, fans are beginning to see the areas of weakness in the Pittsburgh six. Nevermind the shot totals Montreal allows game in, they are creating chances at the opposite end in good number, keeping them confident enough to continue winning games. The Penguins weak spots are not hindering that confidence at all.
Bob Gainey, maligned a lot more than he should have been, don't you think?
Armed with a wad of cash, Gainey went shopping this past summer, casting aside a dozen players and adding the likes of Gill, Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Hal Gill, Jaroslav Spacek, Paul Mara and Scott Gomez via the trade route.
The Gomez deal will always have its critcs, and I'm bound to be one of them somewhere down the road, but as it stands right now, as a bold first step by Gainey last summer, it's looking pretty darn good.
The deal was often described as the fleecing of Montreal by Glen Sather, in that it unloaded a hefty contract in exchange for Christopher Higgins and prospect Ryan McDonagh. But the move by Gainey on the eve of free agency was perfectly timed. Who knows what the Canadiens may have lured on the free agent market this past summer had things not gone as they did.
At the time, few even considered Tom Pyatt as an entity in the trade, seven months later, Pyatt is one smart and crafty depth player, with a penalty killer's natural born anticipation. Throw ins that pan out as he has are cherries on the cake. Pyatt might never gain all the accolades he deserves, but every winning team has his brand of subtle and anonymous warrior whose trench work only becomes apparently after multiple viewings.
Gainey then made two offensive and three defensive signings that stabilized the areas of concern for the club. As it was parting with weapons of attack, Gainey grabbed the highest scoring free agent on the market in Cammalleri and a former 48 goal scorer at Gomez's side.
Looking back, how shrewd were those moves?
Both brought leadership and style, with enough guts to please the Hab faithfull. They lead the Canadiens in regular season goals and continue to do so in the post season.
Moen was a depth addition who, like Pyatt, knows his role well. Both have the smarts and savvy to be shifted up to top lines with specific tasks in mind.
On the backline, Gill, Spacek and Mara were added, seemingly to suit the system prefered by coach Martin. It didn't hurt that they were all seasoned vets.
Gill, we must all now admit, was an incredible coup that flew under everyone's radars.
When Andrei Markov went down to injury, Marc Andre Bergeron was signed up and contributed 13 goals, many of them on a kickstarted power play.
When Guillaume Latendresse's development seemed to stall, Benoit Pouliot was acquired, and brought more than the player he was traded for had given. (I'll never love the move, but...)
At the trade deadline, Pierre Gauthier, who had taken over Gainey's function, added in Dominic Moore, a seasoned player who is all combattant and zestful energy. Moore gels well with anyone it seems, and players alongside him have a habit of showing some sort of metamorphosis.
The final puzzle piece, was the proper grooming and timely callup of defenseman P.K. Subban. A two game stint during the season displayed that mental toolbox had matched the alluring talent quite readily. When he was needed late in the Washington series, the time was right to bring him on board. He's been nothing but a revelation since.
Another move by Gainey that raised eyebrows, was awarding a lofty raise to Tomas Plekanec after a season on the skids. In hindsight, it may not so much have been the money, but the ac itself towards the dedicated Plekanec that said, "We have faith in you!"
With the numerous additions to last season's team, the many returnees were caught up in a scrambling game of "What my line?"
Players named Kostitsyn, Hamrlik, Latendresse, Lapierre, Gorges, Metropolit, O'Byrne, Pacioretty, D'Agostini, Chipchura, Laraque, Stewart in addition to nine players called up from the Hamilton Bulldogs jockied for position and standing on the team.
In hindsight, perhaps all it took was for the playoffs to arrive and help sort the glut out. The post season gave better definition to roles and responsibilities. The team won't go throw this growth phase again next season.
Out of the mire, some left and other were left to stand tall and taller.
Gorges has developed into a top four defenseman, who never seems to run out of resourcefulness and sheer guts. He's a warrior and captain material after a season of adversity.
Lapierre has been looking for his game most of the season, and once paired with Moore the cream of his game has once ore risen to the top. Lapierre is back to his pestulant best, giving the team timely energy shifts that are altering games with scoring big time playoff goals.
All taken together, this group of players currently shocking the NHL regular season giants, might seem greater than the sum of its parts.
Not to burden this bunch with a heady comparison, but in Montreal, such a notion initially greeted the 1986 and 1993 versions of the team.
All season long, the club frustrated its fans and itself, as it failed to carve out an identity. Popular opinion said at first, that the team was better than it was, but after 82 games, there was resignation that just maybe the chemistry experiment had failed.
Perhaps its just the perfect storm theory playing out, best explaining why the 2010 Canadiens were on no one's radar.
What is most remarkable about this team right now, are the amount of character players, huge hearts, being displayed for our discovery.
One other thing is quite evident, the players on this team must truly enjoy playing with one another, as they are now playing for each other.
And they don't want to stop now!