Wilde on how the Habs fell short
Published Friday, May 10, 2013 9:33PM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, May 12, 2013 5:02PM EDT
MONTREAL—Hey! What happened? I blinked.
Injuries happened; goaltending happened; size happened.
The Montreal Canadiens playoff run is already over after a meager five games. Prognosticators across the board felt it would be a close series, but very few saw it as a romp.
The reason so many got it wrong is no one could have predicted the worst night of the Habs year falling on the first night of the NHL playoffs. If it were a Hollywood script, it would have been rejected for being implausible.
Game One saw the best centre on the team during the last month of the season, Lars Eller, end up in the hospital due to a vicious headshot from Eric Gryba. It also saw Brian Gionta, the captain, go down to a torn bicep and surgery. Still more horrendous misfortune was found in a separated shoulder for Max Pacioretty, rendering him ineffective.
Injuries happen, they just don’t usually come in a wave during one game.
The injuries continued with the ribs or shoulder injury to Brandon Prust, an upper body injury to Ryan White. In the end, when you either lose or have injured 7 out of your best 20, you’re not going to win a playoff series.
Montreal was the better team for large stretches of the series, but it didn’t matter because of the goaltending by Craig Anderson. He was the difference.
A quote from Senators head coach Paul MacLean in the Game Five post-game news conference summed it up perfectly: “Sometimes when my friends and my coaching staff gather around a summer cottage, we look at each other and say they should rename the game of hockey and call it goalie.”
MacLean could not be more accurate in his assessment of how this series went.
The save percentages in a playoff series usually have a disparity of 10 points, perhaps a 925 to a 915 for the two teams. In this example of a 10 point difference, both goalies are performing well, perhaps one slightly better than the other.
In the Sens-Habs series, Craig Anderson was an obscene 950. The Habs goalies were Carey Price at 894 and Peter Budaj at 774.
With those numbers, Canada would have a hard time beating Norway, never mind the Habs beating the Sens.
As much as Habs fans would like to lament a whole bevy of personnel issues, they are all noise because the underlying reason for failure in this series was the disparity in save-making. Put Anderson in the Habs net and Montreal is right now on its way to the next round and all the personnel issues that Montreal fans are worried about would not even be worth discussing.
Let’s not be blind however to a prevailing trend in hockey and that in the near and distant future is an obvious problem for the Habs. The officials in the last three weeks of the season began to call very little, the play as a result naturally becomes tighter and tighter, puck battles in the corners decide the outcomes of games and not smooth fast skating through the neutral zone. Transition game speed is replaced by dump and chase hoping to attain possession. It is not the hockey skill set the Montreal Canadiens were built for, so as much as they had a strong series and deserved a better fate, in the end, as time would have passed and moved to the second and third rounds, the Habs lack of size would have been a glaring issue anyway.
Marc Bergevin told me he knew he needed to add grit to his squad when I interviewed him in December. He knows even more now that he needs to add grit. The Oilers and Canucks finished their post mortems with the same announcement that they needed more size and grit. If the officials are going to call that type of game in the playoffs, you may benefit from one kind of skating game in the regular season and establish your standing on that, but when the playoffs begin, you will lose that standing as soon as the first defenceman holds you, bangs you into the boards, almost takes your head off, beats you in a puck battle, denies you speed through the neutral zone with obstruction.
This isn’t 2005 after the lock out with five obstruction calls per game. Obstruction hasn’t stopped. They just stopped calling it. This isn’t 2010 with Stephen Walkom, the director of officals, still pressing for a more wide open hockey. This is Terry Gregson at that helm now, with the full backing of the Snider and Jacobs types in Philadelphia and Boston. Playoff hockey is designed for the big man.
Speed kills they say. Just not in the NHL playoffs.
However, goaltending still kills, and so does a 20 man line up reduced by seven.