After 8 months of following, cheering, debating, and praying, the playoffs are finally here. Instead of throwing in our outsider’s two cents for every series, we figured it would be better to ask people that know the ins-and-outs of their team like only a hockey blogger would know! To break down the 1st round series in the East between the Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens, we enlisted the help of Becca from Japers’ Rink and our very own Amanda Fortier, who has been known to spread the hockey love around VFMS . You might not have all the answers at the end of this—but you’ll have a better idea of some of the hopes and fears of the combatants.
Check out what the bloggers have to say– and then let us know what you think in the Comments!
What do you like most about your team going into the playoffs?
Becca (Capitals): I really like the depth. Last year it felt like the Caps kind of ran out of steam by the time they hit their second Game 7 in a row, and they folded easily when pressured in that final game. This year, not only is everyone (mostly) healthy going into the playoffs – something that wasn’t true last year – but there are also extra bodies to pick up the slack at just about every position. Even better is the fact that we know the offense can come from a lot of different guys, so it’s not all on Ovechkin’s shoulders or Mike Green’s shoulders. Anyone from Alexander Semin to Brooks Laich to Tomas Fleischmann to the 3rd/4th line guys can and will chip in.
Amanda (Canadiens): The Habs are finally (mostly) healthy. They are certainly going to miss Glen Metropolit in the playoffs, but the rest of the team is back on the ice (for the sake of accuracy, the team is also missing Paul Mara, but I use the term “missing” loosely). Considering that only 2 players on the Canadiens roster played in all 82 regular season games (Tomas Plekanec and ironman Josh Gorges, who didn’t even miss a game after blocking a Mike Green slapshot with his head), it will be interesting to see what they can do. Also, in the final regular season game, it looked like Michael Cammalleri was starting to get his timing back after rehabbing a knee injury. He hit a few posts but I’m confident he will be scoring again in the playoffs. The third and fourth lines have been producing and I feel a lot better with our top 6 defensemen playing.
What part of your team scares the hell out of you when you think about the upcoming series?
Becca (Capitals): Penalty-killing. For all the talk about the Caps’ defensive deficiencies, they’re actually one of the better teams in the NHL at 5-on-5 – it’s when they’re shorthanded that things go wrong. And when they go wrong, they go REALLY wrong. Whether it’s guys not being aggressive enough or being too aggressive and taking themselves out of position, for whatever reason the PK has never really gotten it together this season. So far the Caps have been able to score enough at even strength or on their own power play to mostly make up for it, but that’s not a given in the playoffs and it’s ridiculously terrifying to think that could be their undoing.
Amanda (Canadiens): The Canadiens have had a very hard time scoring all year, finishing 26th overall for goals per game with 2.56. They’re going to need to score goals if they want to beat the high scoring Capitals, who finished first overall on the same category, averaging 3.82 goals per game. Especially since the Caps also like to score against the Habs, potting a total of 15 goals in those 4 games (plus a shootout winner). That being said, the Habs also scored 15 goals against the Caps in those 4 games. If the Canadiens continue to have trouble scoring goals, and continue to rely on their goaltending, they will lose.
What do you think your opponent has that will cause the most problems?
Becca (Capitals): Montreal’s power play could be an issue, especially when it comes to those lovely penalty killing issues the Caps have had. They had the second-best power play in the league this year (behind only the Caps) and while Marc-Andre Bergeron isn’t a name that strikes terror into many peoples’ hearts when playing defense, he is a huge reason for the success the Habs have had with the extra man. Throw in excellent, creative puck-movers like Gionta and Markov and I fear for my boys shorthanded.
Amanda (Canadiens): Alexander Ovechkin. Nicklas Backstrom. Alexander Semin. Mike Green, for that matter. All among the top 20 scorers in the NHL. The Habs have an aging defense corps who are not known for their speed (I’m looking at you, Hal Gill. I love you but you’ll need a 10 minute head start) and two goaltenders who are at times brilliant and at other times frustrated at best. If the Habs defense can step it up a notch, and the goalies are sharp, we might just steal a game or two. Jaroslav Spacek and Roman Hamrlik were able to contain Ovi during the regular season, and I hope they can manage to do that during this playoff series.
What are some of their weaknesses that you’re looking forward to seeing for an entire series?
Becca (Capitals): There’s always the easy target – the size. The average height and weight of the two teams aren’t that far off (thank you, Hal Gill) but the Caps still have one of the bigger teams in the league and the Habs, on average, are one of the smallest. And despite their somewhat free-flowing offensive style, the Caps aren’t afraid to take the body; that’s just not Montreal’s game.
Beyond that, though, it’ll be fun to see them try and throw four lines out against the Caps that can compete when it comes to offense, or a defense that can shut down Washington’s attack. Beyond Markov and maybe Gill, who we remember so fondly from last year’s Caps-Pens series, the Habs don’t seem to have many guys capable of shutting down Ovechkin let alone his teammates. And they really don’t have much to counter when it comes to offense, either.
Amanda (Canadiens): The one thing that might swing in the Canadiens favour is weak goaltending. Jose “Three-or-more” Theodore has been hot down the stretch, but how long will it last? Historically, he hasn’t fared particularly well in the playoffs. If his nickname holds, the Canadiens may be able to spark enough offense to give their goalies a chance at a win. Backup Semyon Varlamov missed a good chunk of the season with an injury. True, he was hot in the playoffs last year and that might happen again, but he’s essentially a wild card at this point.
The other potential weakness is discipline. If the Canadiens defence and goalies can frustrate the offensive powers on the Capitals, we might see a parade to the penalty box. In which case, the Canadiens second-overall power play unit might run away with the game. (This is if the Canadiens can likewise stay OUT of the penalty box themselves, given that the Capitals are the one team with a better power play than them. Both teams have similar PIM/game stats, so whichever team can keep a cool head may have an advantage).
Who wins the series (and how many games does it take?)
Becca (Capitals): I think the Habs will win one of their home games – Caps in 5.
Amanda (Canadiens): Caps in 5. (Although I can’t lie, there’s a little part of me, the die hard, love-my-team-to-the-point-of-insanity part, that is whispering Habs in 7).
Which player (either team) has a break out performance?
Becca (Capitals): I’ll take one from each – for the Habs, I’d go with Plekanec, just because he has this annoying habit of ALWAYS scoring on the Caps whenever they meet. As for the Caps, I’d expect Ovechkin to have a good series but the guy I’d watch is Alexander Semin. His is more of a finesse game and while he’s not afraid to hit and be hit (a little), he’ll thrive in a less physical series like this one should be.
Amanda (Canadiens): Carey Price. I know this will seem like a surprising choice, but Jaroslav Halak has not looked solid in the past few games. He’s also played a lot of games since the Olympic break (and during the Olympics), so doubtless he’s tired. I have a feeling we’ll see Price in net sooner than anyone thinks. Price backstopped all 4 games against the Caps this season, with a 2-1-1 record. These playoffs might be the chance for him to finally show everyone what he’s made of.
Although to be honest, I could make an argument for naming any of the 4 goalies here. The team whose goalie really shines will win this match up.