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Size, Physicality and the Habs Shortcomings...

June 10, 2014, 9:46 AM ET [1848 Comments]
Habs Talk
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1) The most glaring thing about these Stanley Cup Finals is the reminder that size matters. The Los Angeles Kings have one forward under six feet tall-- Mike Richards. They have three players on their active roster under 200lbs--Richards, Tyler Toffoli, Justin Williams and Slava Voynov. Richards is as physical of a guy as you can find, Williams can certainly hold his own, and though Toffoli and Voynov are hardly known for the brashness, they're certainly well protected, no matter whom they're on the ice with.

Most fans spent a season asking why the Canadiens picked up Douglas Murray. They had to have done so with the hope that he could help at different points of the regular season, but also with the hope that Jarred Tinordi could emerge in a physical role, offering more mobility, and that they could bring him along slowly while Murray filled in the gaps.

The fact is, you can't win without a couple of mobile defensemen, who can really make the forwards wish they were playing against somebody else. Between Robyn Regehr, Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell, they aren't the fastest guys, but man, they're no fun to play against. Regehr missed a number of games in these playoffs with a knee injury, Mitchell missed a few, so did Greene. But when all three of them play, they all bring that torturous physical dimension.

2) You can talk about the forwards need to wear down defensemen--star defensemen in particular. Ryan McDonagh had 10 points in six games against the Canadiens. Not knocking McDonagh for having three points in three games against the Kings; I'm crediting the Kings for rendering him far less effective.

And it's not Gaborik, Carter and Kopitar doing a number on McDonagh, it's Richards, Brown, King etc...

People look at Max Pacioretty and say he's got to take a page out of that book to be successful, but the truth is that the big scorers need some muscle behind them, softening up the top defender on the other team. It's age-old stuff, but it's always been the truth.

The Habs had Weise, they had Prust (who couldn't catch McDonagh), they had White (Therrien refused to use him), and they had who else slamming into the corners with reckless abandon? Gallagher? Eller?

Seems rather evident that the sizable/nasty combination up front and on the backend is the difference between winning the Stanley Cup and making it really far in the playoffs.

3) The speed quotient against the Bruins made more than enough sense. It was the reason the Canadiens beat them. They survived the onslaught, the physical war, and they came out on top. They didn't back down, but they didn't come out with a main game plan of trying to out-muscle the Bruins. That wasn't going to happen.

The Habs thought the same game that took them through Tampa and Boston was going to prevail against the battle-tested Rangers, and it took them two games to realize that wasn't going to happen.

Game three of the Habs series with New York was an ugly, grind it out win. It was the type that probably had ardent Therrien bashers frustrated--as they know this is the kind of game Therrien wants his small, speedy team to play. Had they been equipped to play that way through the rest of the series, the outcome may have been different.

4) In spite of what we know, Carey Price could've possibly made the difference. That's got nothing to do with what Dustin Tokarski offered. I think we can all agree that Tokarski gave the Canadiens as good of a chance as they were going to get to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. But Price proved superhuman at times this season. It's impossible not to think "what if?".

This season, Price confirmed he's the championship caliber goaltender most presumed he was the day he was drafted. He proved how great he can be before the Olympics, during the Olympics, and especially after the Olympics--in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

He can't do it alone though. He wouldn't be beating this Los Angeles Kings team on his own. Henrik Lundqvist isn't doing it.

5) After we got over the fact that Guy Lafleur stuck his foot in his mouth last week, it was time to think about what he said.

Firstly, grouping Vanek and Pacioretty in the same sentence was a disturbing injustice. Lost confidence, or bad chemistry, or whatever it was, Vanek appeared soul-less on the ice in these playoffs. He didn't do a single thing that would lead him to breaking out offensively.

In Pacioretty's case, it wasn't a lack of effort. He probably learned quite a few things about what it takes to succeed in the post-season, and he still made some key contributions to the Canadiens successes in these playoffs.

Lafleur clarified to Pat Hickey of the Gazette that the forwards need to be willing to go through the boards for that extra UFA money, or for a chance to win the Stanley Cup.

How often did Lafleur have to go through the boards? He was as prolific a scorer as there was in his era, and he could handle the abuse--no doubt, but he had a supporting cast full of accomplished champions that went through the boards for him on a regular basis. He played at a time when scoring from the side-boards or from the point on the rush was commonplace. The players of today are lucky if they score from those areas. The goaltenders are labelled porous if they allow goals from those areas.

The remedy is not the same for every player. Pacioretty's success hasn't really been crashing the net, but the idea that he's unwilling to do it is beyond overblown. He gets to the hard areas plenty, but his main success has been shooting as many pucks as he can in a game, no matter where he's shooting from. Granted, his best chance at a higher shooting percentage is from the middle of the ice, and he knows as well as anyone that he didn't get shots from those areas as much as he needed to in these playoffs.

6) What will the future bring for Tomas Plekanec? It's a question most Canadiens fans are asking this summer, with the onset of Alex Galchenyuk's career at centre looming.

Plekanec proved indispensable during the regular season, but he hardly wore that label during the playoffs. Not that he played poorly.

The real question for Marc Bergevin is: Has Lars Eller convinced that he can take on the role Plekanec has with the team? The ups and downs of Eller's season can't be discounted in that analysis. If it was just about Eller's playoff performance, the decision to trade Plekanec would be a very easy one to come by.

Bergevin always says you need players that get you to the playoffs and players that get you through them. Maybe Bergevin will do more at the trade deadline than he will at the draft...

7) What kind of contract is Thomas Vanek going to pull in as an unrestricted free agent?

I'm curious as to what everyone thinks on this... I intend to get into that a little further in another blog.

8) As much as Marc Bergevin, Michel Therrien and the Canadiens appreciate what Brian Gionta offers in terms of leadership, there's no point in bringing him back to play the kind of role he'll be given. Going back to the first couple of points in this blog, you need big, physical players in those roles.

Gionta will get a two-year deal from somebody out there. He's still a useful player, and he's a great leader, and he's got more to give than most are willing to credit him for. A full summer of recuperation should revive some offense in him.

9) Not that he's jumping into the NHL as a 6th round draftee in 2013, but I'd bet the Canadiens had a pretty close eye on Jeremy Gregoire this season. A guy who's a heart and soul player, playing a heavy game; a guy who put up pretty good numbers in the QMJHL this year. He's said to have a lot of character.

A lot people wondered if the Habs left too much skill on the table in drafting Mike McCarron in the first round of last year's draft. He had a terrible start to his season with the London Knights, and word is the Habs got involved to make sure he got a more defined role with the team. They weren't too thrilled to see him skating on the fourth line, after they helped the Knights convince McCarron his development would be best served in London, rather than in Western Michigan.

McCarron showed some offensive mettle after gaining more of a role, and he's in a prime spot to build that grit and nastiness a player of his size can do serious damage with.

It won't be next season, but think about where the Canadiens will be when they have a guy like McCarron on their third line instead of a guy like Gionta...

10) The Habs have to be hoping there's some edge to Jacob De La Rose's game to add to that high end skill. He didn't have prolific numbers in the Swedish Elite League (who does as an 18-yr old?) but he showed his skills at the WJC this year. He's big, he's got a powerful stride and a great set of mitts.
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