Montreal Canadiens-Pittsburgh Penguins: Habs Team Defense Ties Series

Rocket All HabsCorrespondent IMay 3, 2010

PITTSBURGH - MAY 2:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins is shoved down near the net by Hal Gill #75 of the Montreal Canadiens in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 2, 2010 at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Montreal 3 Washington 1 (Mellon Arena): The series is tied 1-1.

I'm reminded again of my childhood neighbor and his dad. Mr. Webb was a not-very-svelte 250-pound guy who wore hip waders and a baggy army parka on the backyard rink.

The teams for hockey were the same each day we played. My brother and I would line up against Mr. Webb and his son.

The Webb team would always get an early lead. Mr. Webb didn't stray far from the net. In his unique style, he would lie across the goal line whenever we got a scoring chance. While my brother and I could easily advance past our friend, raising the puck over this hulk with hip waders was an entirely different matter. We hammered away, ran up the shot totals, and usually lost four or five to nothing.

The Webb winning streak continued for a few years until we learned to raise the puck, and then the hip waders were unavailable to come out to play.

As opposing teams outshoot the Canadiens by wide margins, and continue to lose, some speak of a "winning formula." Tonight, the Canadiens outshot the Penguins 12-to-9 in the first period. For the next 40 minutes, the shots on goal were 30-to-9 for Pittsburgh. Is this really a sustainable system?

After the game, coach Jacques Martin said that he was happy with his team's "puck management." The coach must own a custom dictionary.

Just as my brother and I figured out the Webb barricade, a smart coach will break down Fortress Habs. In addition, it's tremendously fatiguing for the players, especially now that injuries have taken key players out of the lineup.

It is amusing to me that many believe that Jaroslav Halak plays better when he faces a large number of shots. They reference his record and "rationalize" that he doesn't have time to get cold or distracted with non-game thoughts from inaction. It's nonsense.

Halak has a good record when he has the assistance of five other defenders. When his teammates are fully committed to defense by blocking shots and keeping chances to the perimeter, they are spending most of the game in their own end. It's rather difficult to play offense and get shots on goal when so little time is spent in the offensive zone.

Playing Fortress Habs leads to lopsided shot totals.

But when it's working, why change? You know, "if it ain't broke..."

A successful NHL coach can't be thinking one game at a time, nor one period at a time. He must anticipate two shifts ahead, be thinking about next period adjustments, and be strategizing about the next game. That's a proactive coach.

A reactive coach will use the same system even with its flaws exposed because it happens to work for one game. A reactive coach will play his top three lines almost exclusively without any regard to how it affects his team for the rest of the series. A reactive coach will punish his fifth leading scorer of the playoffs, which may satisfy his personal anger but do nothing for his team.

Once getting past the first round, some are happy with token wins or moral victories. So, in their minds, the manner is irrelevant. But with the top three seeds in the Eastern conference eliminated from the playoffs, there is a real opportunity for the Canadiens. So, it's not only good enough to win, but to prepare for the next win as well.

A game like this may frustrate the Penguins but does nothing to erode the confidence that they are the superior team. As Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato said after the second period, "Keep doing what you're doing, we're all over them."

Mike Cammalleri described it as "hangers-on hockey."

A great deal of credit must go to all the forwards who played more than 20 minutes: Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, Cammalleri, and Tomas Plekanec.

The defense corps was superb: Josh Gorges, Hal Gill, Roman Hamrlik, Ryan O'Byrne, and P.K. Subban.

Penalty-killing was perfect for the Habs, and a power-play goal ensured that they won the special teams battle.

The Canadiens and Penguins head to Montreal for Game Three on Tuesday night.

Rocket's three stars

1. Scott Gomez
2. Mike Cammalleri
3. Jaroslav Halak

Special mention: Alex Goligoski, Brian Gionta, Hal Gill

Player quotes from wire services were used in this report. 


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