Daily Hab-it: The psychology of a blowout
Montreal Canadiens players react on the bench after a goal by the Boston Bruins during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Boston Thursday, March 24, 2011. The Bruins won 7-0. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Published Thursday, March 24, 2011 11:16PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 3:10AM EDT
In the three games preceding the big Thursday night showdown in Boston with the Bruins, the Canadiens had taken part in two blowouts, finding themselves on both the winning and losing end.
And each time, I said it's important to avoid the temptation of reading too much into those one-sided games.
But this one was different.
Facing what was likely their final chance to win the Northeast Division, with the added motivation of trying to win a game for a fallen teammate, the Canadiens showed nothing even resembling a pulse in losing to the Bruins by a 7-0 score.
They were so dead, in fact, that the score doesn't even properly reflect the level of competitiveness this game had.
The Bruins outshot the Canadiens 41-24. They attempted 70 shots to Montreal's 44. They won 38 out of 63 faceoffs. They forced the Canadiens to hand them six power play opportunities in the opening 40 minutes.
Essentially, the Bruins were the only ones who respected what both teams were saying prior to the game, and that was the two points were far more important than any of the bad blood lingering from their history this season.
The Canadiens have insisted for days – and with reason considering their four wins in the first five meetings – that their speed and skill would ultimately rule the day. Then the Bruins went ahead and out-skated and out-skilled the Canadiens, holding the puck for a vast majority of the 60 minutes played, which is why Montreal managed to outhit Boston 25-11.
This is why the "hit" stat can be hugely misleading, because often times the team with the most hits is the one that spent the most time defending.
Considering the importance of the game and the return of four key injured players in Brent Sopel, Tomas Plekanec, Jeff Halpern and Mathieu Darche, it becomes very difficult for the Canadiens to simply write it off as one bad game in a long season.
There's only seven of these games left, and this was Montreal's chance to cement what has been a season full of supremacy over the Bruins.
I wrote that regardless of the outcome of this game, the Canadiens would still be able to hold that air of superiority over the Bruins because of their dominance of the match-up over the last two seasons, which now sits at nine wins in 12 games.
That may still be true, but the Bruins have now claimed two of the past three meetings and have done so in two distinct ways – once by pounding the Canadiens, and once by totally outclassing them.
I don't know what kind of lasting effect the embarrassing nature of the Canadiens performance could have. Would this loss be any easier to digest if it finished 3-2? If the Canadiens had managed to mount a comeback from a 3-0 first period deficit and make it interesting? If Brian Gionta had converted P.K. Subban's beautiful set-up in the second period moments before Nathan Horton made it 4-0? Would any of that make a difference, or is a loss in a close game just as hard to take as a blowout?
I honestly don't know, and only the men in that dressing room will be able to answer that question. Except I'd imagine they don't know either, at least not yet.
It will be up to them to determine the answer to that question, to take this loss as a lesson and put it to good use, to draw a positive out of something that could never be perceived as such.
Two priorities emerge
To do that, some issues centered on mental toughness need to be addressed.
First of all, the Canadiens have played in two games over the past week that had serious implications for playoff positioning in New York and in Boston, and not only lost them both, but failed to show up at all. The combined score after the first period in those two games was 8-0. So there is clearly an intensity problem there.
Secondly, the Canadiens cannot win games where they spend so much time in the penalty box, and the fact they are still in a playoff position while leading the league in shorthanded situations is a minor miracle.
Boston had six power play opportunities through 40 minutes Thursday night, scoring on one of them, but gaining momentum from all of them. And look at the players who put their teammates in that situation: Roman Hamrlik, Plekanec with a double minor that resulted in Boston's power play goal, Scott Gomez on two separate occasions and Paul Mara.
That's three of your leaders in Hamrlik, Plekanec and Gomez doing exactly what the team has been saying they need to stop doing for weeks. Thursday night was the fifth time in six games the Canadiens have been shorthanded at least five times, and it was the 28th time this season. Their record in those games is 11-15-2. When allowing less than five power plays to the opposition they are 29-13-5. It doesn't take a hockey genius to see there's an impact there.
So while this city will take the 7-0 beating in Boston as a tremendous blow to its collective hockey ego, the Canadiens have an opportunity to use it as a wake up call and correct some issues before the playoffs begin in three weeks.
Because if they don't, those playoffs risk being a very short ride.