Habs Fever: A contrast in styles
Published Monday, April 11, 2011 11:22AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 4:26AM EDT
MONTREAL - Ever since time began it has been the speed and skill of the Habs against the brawn of the Bruins.
Perhaps it is one of the reasons the rivalry is one of the best in hockey history.
It seems no matter how many decades pass, the Bruins cannot help but look for big and bad to add to the line up and the Habs are destined to find speedy and small.
Throughout that history against each other, the Habs have come out on top on many more occasions and the Bruins have found themselves to usually be lacking, except in the time of Bobby Orr when they did have the skill needed to reach the pinnacle.
So here we are again and the time-ripened argument is on the burner again.
It is Gionta versus Lucic. It is Subban versus Chara.
Who would you want on your team? It is not an easy answer. I would want all four but if you have to have an identity, these cities have chosen their identities it seems never just by accident.
In Montreal, artists are loved. Alex Kovalev was the most recent hero until the arrival of another exciting magician in PK Subban.
On the scoreboard, before the game, to get fans pumped in Montreal, great goals are featured from Lafleur and Richard. Beautiful hockey plays entirely. There is not a single fight in the montage. I've never, ever seen a fight in a Habs' video to get the fans pumped for a playoff game.
In Boston in the playoffs two years ago I saw the five-minute video display before the game featuring the flying-through-the-air cup winner from Orr but for the other four and a half minutes, it was fights, enormous hits, players brawling, blood flowing, Bruins in the stands with shoes, coaches erupting.
That is how hockey is marketed in the two cities. Not saying that Montrealers don't like a good fight or Bostonians don't like a good goal. Just saying that the history of the players and their styles seems to be celebrated by the organizations and fostered for years.
So no one will argue this is not speed/skill vs muscle/aggression, and maybe my feelings on how this series will go is more about how I feel hockey is going overall, than it is about the participants themselves.
I love Subban's talent. I love Gionta's heart and courage. I love Plekanec's one-on-one skills. I love Price's talent. I love Gill's penalty killing.
I don't love the way the game is being played a lot of games that plod along.
I have felt for the last three years that the game is going back to pre-lockout 2004. Obstruction interference doesn't really exist as a call anymore.
The free-flowing offense of even three years ago is fading. Look at the top point getter on many teams. He barely broke the 50 mark. Sergei Kostitsyn was the Preds' top point guy with 51.
It is not a speed and skill league right now. The key components of a winning team are net presence to screen, deflect and crash because that is how 80 percent of goals are scored: from within five feet. And also, on one-on-one battles in corners with the key being who can roll out of a confrontation with control of the puck.
The key component of winning hockey is not speed through the neutral zone and who can dangle with the puck best. We all love those moments, but we just don't see them enough.
Tuesday night Patrick Kane dangled with all of his skill in scoring against Price and the savvy hockey crowd in Montreal gasped because they were so impressed. It didn't matter that he had a Hawks jersey on because Montreal fans love talent.
The Habs have more talent than Boston man-for-man.
So I guess I have become a cynic about the game because I just have this vision of Lucic terrorizing many Habs and Marchand crashing the net without the refs doing much about it.
I think Montreal has the better goalie but when you are screened, or two guys are standing at your doorstep for tips and rebounds, then it is hard to be the better goalie.
I cut my teeth in this business watching the Oilers win five cups in seven years in Edmonton. My first job was covering them winning their first cup in 1984. Trust me, I grew up loving beautiful plays. Never saw a single defenceman handle Gretzky and Kurri on a two-on-one.
Edmonton in those days was exactly like Montreal has always wanted to be. And who can argue Montreal's effectiveness with Cup totals vastly surpassing the next rival.
But this does not feel like that glorious NHL to me. This NHL feels like one where the big bad Bruins are allowed to be big and bad and some of the Habs are looking at the ref and asking for some help that is not coming.
If when night one is beginning, you see Bruins in the crease, Bruins winning puck battles, Habs getting hammered, and the penalties even, then it won't be pretty.
If when night one is on you see Bruins taking penalties, the Habs with some neutral zone open ice, the play flowing freely from end to end, and Carey protected to see the puck by both the league and his own defenceman, then the Habs will be just fine.
It is up to the refs and the league too to decide how they want this to go. I can't say I am too confident on that front watching the interference being run again to the extent it is.
We shall see.
I love hockey. Always have. Never is it finer than when Lafleur was flying down the wing, or Gretzky was pinpointing passes for one time Kurri releases into the top shelf.
I would love to see a form of that on Thursday night, but instead I think I will just see a guy dumping it into the corner, chasing after it, smacking a defenceman into the boards, winning the puck, passing it to the point, then crashing to the net, and waiting for the shot to arrive against a jostled or screened goalie.
That's my vision of winning playoff hockey circa 2011 and I see the Bruins doing that better.
I'd rather see Lafleur. I think I'll see O'Reilly
That's not Plekanec's fault. It's not Lucic's credit. It's just the evolution of the game.