The Engels Angle: The Canadiens Have a Very Clear Identity
Published Wednesday, November 10, 2010 11:37AM EST
MONTREAL - We've learned a lot about these Montreal Canadiens, though it took us more than a season's worth of hockey to figure it out.
Last year, they were a team that played to the level of its competition; often winning games you'd have counted them out of before the drop of the puck, and losing the ones they were favoured to win.
We learned more about the team in the playoffs.
We learned that with a tightly structured, masterful game plan and the proper dedication to executing that plan, the Canadiens could beat any team in the league in a 7-game series. For those who wish to suggest they did so purely on luck and on the wings of angelic performances by Jaroslav Halak, they've missed the final lesson the Canadiens have taught us:
You cannot play across a team that is among the best (if not the best in the East) at shutting down the middle of the ice.
That lesson was polished off and re-gifted to the Vancouver Canucks last night, who lost their second-straight game against the Canadiens. Vancouver fell into the same trap that swallowed Washington and Pittsburgh last post-season.
That the Canucks are a highly effective passing team is an understatement. They make their money playing that high-flying, west coast hockey style, taking advantage of all the speed and skill they have on three of four lines. That they tried to implement that style against a team that's known for holding a death-grip on the middle of the ice disabled every aspect of what made them successful over the six-game winning streak they rode into Montreal.
Vancouver managed 15 shots on Carey Price through the first two periods, and none of them came from either Sedin. If you care to guess as to how the Canucks managed 20 shots in the third, be my guest...
I'll let you in on a little secret, so long as you promise not to tell any other team that wishes to disrespect the speed and defensive strategy of the Canadiens. The Canucks went from east-west to north-south hockey in the third, and if Carey Price hadn't been Halakian (or a lot like another Saint revered for his goaltending years in Montreal) this game may have turned in the ugliest of fashions.
Who are the Canadiens you ask?
Mike Boone of the Gazette often likes to suggest they are a team that won't win when outworked by their opponent, but a team that can win on any given night when their work ethic is better or equal.
To add to that, when their work ethic is better or equal, and they play their style, there are very few teams in the league that can afford not to make major adjustments in order to manipulate the chess match into their favour.
They are a team that needs their goaltender to make the first save, and on occasion to bail them out of games when they aren't properly implementing their style.
Lastly, we've learned that the Canadiens are perfecting that game-style that came to life in the playoffs. We've learned they're getting better, and that's a pleasant surprise to all those who feared the team was doomed with the expatriation of their latest revered Saint. This team knows how to win, and the stability of its composition has enabled it to understand why it loses. That's half the battle.
Carey Price has embraced the challenge, and his teammates are embracing him. This is evolution, and the Canadiens have one of the best records in the league to prove it, despite coming into last night's game having lost 4 of 5. Carey Price has as good of a record as the Vancouver Canucks do.
This month's test continues against the Bruins, Thursday-- a team less likely to fall into the trap that Vancouver, Washington and Pittsburgh are prone to. It'll require the same effort and a lot more grit to take care of the Bruins, but if the Canadiens do so it'll be because they know who they are and what they need to do.