Sunday, 15 January 2012

Game 45: Montréal 4, New York Rangers 1

Pierre Gauthier has publicly confirmed what many fans have been screaming for years: the Canadiens were too small as a team and need to get bigger. We saw that in the first and second period for long stretches when the big Rangers forwards (Brian Boyle, 6'7", 244 lbs., Mike Rupp, 6'5", 243 lbs.) kept the Canadiens bottled up in their zone with effective, aggressive forechecking. The smaller Montreal defencemen were a little bit skittish along the boards, their heads on a swivel, as they tried to escape with their lives and brain cells intact rather than the puck.

Getting bigger is not an unalloyed boon though, as we saw what the Rangers size meant in terms of lack of mobility. Time and again, Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais and even Scott Gomez, buzzed around the Rangers zone, their quickness, agility and artistry with the puck too much for the lumbering behemoths in white.

It is clear that what the Canadiens have been lacking is not solely size and strength. If they had had more finish around the net, more production from the putative goal scorers on the team, and if the powerplay had not been so impotent, they would be comfortably in the playoff seeding and battling for position.

I do agree that the Canadiens need to inject some size and toughness in their lineup, given the conditions that exist with referees overlooking slashes and hooks that were automatic calls after the lockout in 2005, and the Reign of Error of Bettman, Campbell and Jacobs. I wonder how much worse than Chris Campoli or Hal Gill or Tomas Kaberle Shane O'Brien would have had to be to not improve this squad.

The Canadiens can skate and score the goon teams into submission, kind of like the Red Wings do, and like we've done frequently with the Bruins, but an important component of that formula is the scoring part.

Tonight the #1 line played as such, after a few games of relatively meager production. This game should serve as the final nail in the coffin of the line juggling that was rampant this season. In the Post-Cammalleri era, the David Desharnais line has established itself as the best offensive line. Any mix and matching that might occur should be limited to the other lines. The Lars Eller line might be more susceptible to being broken up with the Travis Moen injury tonight, and the benching of its other two members. This might help find a proper fit for newcomer René Bourque, who played with conviction in his first game as a Glorieux and after a five-game suspension.

Mike Blunden again proved his worth. In his last game against the Rangers in New York, he was assessed an undeserved interference penalty on top of a too-many-men penalty to the Canadiens bench, and he seemed to be punished for that by being made a healthy scratch and then sent back to Hamilton. We saw during the game that his size and enthusiasm is a complement to his smaller teammates. As long as he plays at the same pace, he should be in the lineup.

Another positive point is an easy, assured win from Peter Budaj. Apparently he's a very hard worker during practice, and his game may be improving. Certainly his confidence will improve after defeating the top team in the Eastern Conference, and hopefully the team will also believe in him and not think that unless Carey is in net they have no hope.

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