Funny thing happened on the way to Matt Cooke’s reunion with Marc Savard—the Canadiens. After the Habs pulled off the biggest post-season upset the NHL has seen in years, the Penguins will be facing-off with the #8 seed from Quebec. On paper, we have the defending Stanley Cup Champs against the worst team to make the playoffs. But as the Caps found out, they don’t play games on paper—they play them in HD Boxes in my living room.
We’ve brought back our own Habs’ loving Amanda Fortier to help us out for the Canadiens’ perspective. For the Penguins, Todd Wyant from Pens Universe was kind enough to return for another round of our curious questions. As always, huge thanks for their time and energy… OK, enough wasting time!
1. There’s no question that goaltending is important in the playoffs. Jaroslav Halak is coming off an amazing series and Marc-Andre Fleury has proven to be one of the best money goaltenders since the lockout. Who gets the better goaltending performance?
Todd (Pens): Performance is the interesting point here. Halak is coming of a huge emotional run and Marc-Andre Fleury has the overall experience. I would simply say Fleury, the experience factor is a huge chunk of what makes a playoff goalie. Halak has done well in the face of his detractors, particularly Ovechkin but playoff seasoning will only make him better and he will get it in this series against Pittsburgh.
Amanda (Habs): I think both goaltenders will play well. The one advantage the Canadiens have is that we have two goalies capable of taking on a starter role if necessary. The playoffs are a marathon, not a sprint, but if Halak starts looking tired, we know we can put Price in net and no one will be (too) afraid. Price was treated a bit as a scapegoat last round, coming in to a lost cause, and then backstopping a game the skaters gave up on well before it was done. But Canadiens fans have seen how brilliant Price can be, and they also know that the competition between these two goaltenders is what fuels them both. I couldn’t even name the Penguins backup goalie off the top of my head (and even after looking at their roster, I’m still not sure who it is). If Fleury were to falter, I’m not sure Pens fans can have the same level of confidence in their backup. That’s a big if, though. Fleury is a proven winner; I would definitely never argue that.
2. In their last series, the Habs were able to bottle up Alexander Ovechkin well enough to escape with a 7-game series win. Will they be able to do the same thing with Sidney Crosby?
Todd (Pens): No and it’s easy to explain. Ovechkin plays a 1 dimensional game and Crosby is constantly working on improving his. Ovechkin was clearly being selfish and trying to force things to happen against the Habs. Everywhere Ovechkin went, Hal Gill was there to collect a toll. Crosby is constantly surveying the ice looking for better opportunities. I am sure the Habs will look to try the same method for Sid, but that opens of a whole plethora of other opportunities for Guerin, Dupuis, Malkin, Gonchar, etc. None of those players are unfamiliar with opportunistic goals this year.
Amanda (Habs): I think that there will need to be some adjustments in order for the Habs to contain Crosby. The Canadiens were able to stymie Ovechkin by forcing him to the outside and blocking a lot of his shots before they came anywhere close to the net. They gave their goalies a chance to see the puck, or else kept the puck from coming anywhere near the net. Ovechkin got frustrated, and I think that for him, the mental game was lost.
Crosby plays a completely different style of game. Prior to the playoffs, Dan Rosen wrote a very nice comparison of the goal scoring styles of Ovechkin and Crosby. A lot of Crosby’s goals this season came from shots in the low slot. The Canadiens defense will need to contain his skating, and keep him away from the front of the net. The goalies will also have to practice better rebound control than we saw in the first round. I think it can be done; they’ve already proven how good the defense can be.
3. Chances are, Selke Trophy finalist Jordan Staal is going to go up against the Cammalleri-Kostitsyn-Plekanec line. Who gets the edge in that match-up: The Habs hottest line or one of the best defensive forwards in the league?
Todd (Pens): The Pens 3rd line is arguably the most cohesive line in the NHL, only mentioning Staal is a discredit to them. Regardless of personal opinion, a lot of credit has to go to Matt Cooke as well. The Staal/Cooke combo has been together all season and logs a lot of PK time. Tyler Kennedy should get a mention here but for the most part, that spot has been filled by several players all season long. The Habs cannot underestimate this line as a defense only group. They play very sound positional hockey and they hit everything that moves but they take advantage of mistakes very well and can get the puck back in the other end of the ice before you know it.
Amanda (Habs): Well, Jordan Staal is but one man. However, I think the Canadiens are going to have a bit of an adjustment from the run-and-gun style of the Capitals to the more balanced game the Pens play. In my first round preview, my big worry about the Canadiens was a lack of goal scoring. This is still a concern, and the strong defensive play of the Penguins could further limit that. However, in the first round we saw scoring from some pretty unexpected places, so perhaps if the Penguins want to focus their energy on the top lines, the Canadiens will be just fine.
4. Which opposing player do you think HAS to be shut down in order for your team to win?
Todd (Pens): Tough to single “a player” here. The Habs use a familiar system that the Pens should recognize. Michel Therrien used it in his tenure in Pittsburgh. Roll 4 lines, clog the neutral zone and keep the shots to the outside, low percentage areas. As they have shown in the series with the Caps, they will burn you on the simplest mistake then suffocate you when you step up the pressure. Having to make a pick though, Mike Cammalleri, no question about it.
Amanda (Habs): The obvious answer here is Crosby, but to focus on one single player is short sighted. The Penguins are a strong team, and there are any number of players who can step up if Crosby is stifled. Every Canadiens player will need to continue to play with the heart and commitment they showed in the first round, no matter who or what their assignment is.
5. Who is the X-Factor on your team and what is the biggest difference they will make in leading their club to victory?
Todd (Pens): Jay McKee/Craig Adams, you don’t seem them on score sheets very much but players know when they are on the ice. McKee is back to being a shot blocker and Adams gets after puck carriers and reminds them of what price has to be paid to move the puck or to get that shot off.
Amanda (Habs): The most amazing thing about the first round win against the Capitals is that every night, someone new played the hero (of course, not discounting Halak in the last 3 games). I don’t even know how to start guessing at this one. The Canadiens have stepped up, whether it be accepting a job as a role player, like Marc-André Bergeron playing limited minutes as a power play specialist*, or sacrificing the body to help the goalies, or unexpected people chipping in with clutch goals when they were really needed (like Lapierre, Moen and Moore). I think that the Canadiens have surprised everyone with their depth. Well, maybe everyone but Bob Gainey.
6. How long will we have to wait in the series before Penguin fans yearn for the good ole days when Hal Gill was playing for THEIR team?
Todd (Pens): 0 Games, many of us knew that Gill left because of cap issues, there was no ill will and many respected him for his contributions. No one SHOULD job him for doing what’s best for him and his family. I think you will be surprised by the amount of respect he is shown during the series. That being said, I love you, Hal, but you are a pylon until further notice.
Amanda (Habs): I think they already do. The Pens are well acquainted with just how good Gill can be, and Gill is well acquainted with how they play. This could be a huge advantage for the already giant USS Hal Gill.
7. If the Habs are able to pull off the upset, will Montreal riot?
Todd (Pens): Respectfully, I cannot go for the easy joke here. I was in Montreal for Game 5 in 1993. I think the rioting was a bit overblown by the media. Every team has “that” portion of the fanbase that is just over the top. It wasn’t nearly as bad as has been suggested, but there was a lot of beer consumed that evening, that can’t be denied. I think a lot of the US based hockey fans should make the journey to Toronto or Montreal if they have the opportunity. A lot could be learned from the experience. The only thing that has topped that experience (with respect to fanbases) was a trip to Old Trafford back in the mid-90’s.
Amanda (Habs): Oh goodness, I hope not. Considering that many people likened beating the Caps to being this seasons equivalent to the Stanley Cup for the Habs, and fans didn’t riot then, I hope we can continue the trend of (mostly) peaceful revelry and celebration, should the Habs win again.
8. Fearless Prediction: This is straight forward—Who wins the series and why?
Todd (Pens): Pens in 6, should be a real gut wrenching series. Neither team seems to care about home or road games being any different. Pittsburgh for the last 3 seasons has made strides beyond their expectations and gaining valuable experience. This will be the difference maker in the end.
Amanda (Habs): I thing the series will go to 6 games. And I’m far from fearless on this one but I believe that the Canadiens have the ability to be the ones coming out victorious at the other end. I have to keep the faith.
*As an aside, Marc-André Bergeron’s nickname over at Four Habs Fans is “The Urologist”, because he’s a PP specialist…