Canadiens – Senators Preview: Man With a Mustache Has Something to Hide

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By Jacob Saltiel, Staff Writer All Habs Hockey Magazine

MONTREAL, QC. — Regular season complete, the Canadiens will now try to convert their Northeast Division title into playoff success. Michel Therrien will now focus on plotting against his nefarious opposite number in Ottawa. Having just made Sean McIndoe and much of Canada weep, Paul MacLean will begin combing his mustache for a way to douse Flambeau Field in round one. How do these teams match up?

Scoring

The Canadiens were sixth in shots on goal per game and tied for second in goals scored in the Eastern conference. Mostly to confound the advanced stats crowd, MacLean developed a coaching scheme for the Senators that had them lead the entire NHL in shots per game while finishing tied for the third worst in actual goals scored.

Max-PaciorettyIn Montreal, forwards such as leading scorer Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, and mid-season arrival Michael Ryder were supported by the effective if unspectacular David Desharnais, and the young and emerging group of Lars Eller, Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk. Defenders such as P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov scored prolifically, finishing first and fourth in scoring by defencemen respectively.

Barring hidden injuries, the Canadiens are healthy. The only change to this group over the course of the season has been the development of Eller, Galchenyuk and Gallagher. Galchenyuk played protected minutes and often failed to crack double digits in ice-time as the regular season closed. Despite this, he covertly finished on fire, scoring six goals and six assists in 14 games. If his recent form continues, he can be huge for the Canadiens in the playoffs. If Jacques Martin were still the coach, Galchenyuk would be benched for the playoffs.

In Ottawa, nobody really scored. The player on the team with the most points is Cory Conacher, who scored nearly all of those points when he was playing for Tampa Bay with two nobodies. After that, the talented Kyle Turris lead the team with 27 points, followed by Alfredsson, the rookie Mika Zibanejad, big man Colin Greening, and the man possessed of an unstoppable shot, Jakob Silfverberg. Milan Michalek was injured for much of the season, though he’s back now. The younger players on this team may still have more to give, but Sergei Gonchar still plays hockey- and plays effectively apparently- and along with Patrick Wiercioch produced quite well in Erik Karlsson‘s absence.

If Karlsson is completely healthy and effective, this team will be better at scoring than their regular season record indicates. Despite playing most of the season without Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek, and Karlsson, this team could still put the puck on net, even if not necessarily putting it in the net.

Defence

The Senators finished with the second-fewest goals allowed in the entire league behind the marauding Blackhawks. Surprisingly, they also gave up the 23rd most shots a game in the entire league, which speaks to their strong goaltending. The corresponding numbers for the Canadiens are 13th and 5th, though the number of goals scored is skewed by that horrible week where not only pucks eluded the grasps of Carey Price and Peter Budaj, but seemingly also bowling balls, toaster ovens, wrenches, cats, dogs, and forties.

jarred-tinordiThe Canadiens blueline finished the year disorganized and lacking cohesion following the injury to Alexei Emelin. More importantly, Markov’s decline as a defensive player has hurt the team. One supposes that replacing his knees with carved wood is aesthetically pleasing and helps him to float in the bath, but the league seems to have caught on that he can’t move very well anymore. Bouillon’s been effective throughout the season, but his role should be as a depth defenceman. MacLean’s mustache is probably intent on exposing Francis Bouillon and Markov if the two are left unsupported by forwards and their d-partners.

Subban’s brilliance, however, helps to paper over these shortcomings, and he’s ably supported by Josh Gorges. Raphael Diaz, who just came back from injury, and the young legend himself, Jarred Tinordi, are question marks in terms of what form they’ll be in now that the games matter. Tinordi will be relied on heavily to supply the nastiness that most of his partners lack- more on this in a second.

Without Karlsson, the Senators relied on a muscular and steely defence to get through the regular season. Marc Methot, Chris Phillips, and Wiercioch are all big, strong, and can smash. Adding to this dynamic is the recent return of Jared Cowen. For those who are unaware, Cowen is a shatterer of worlds. Witness his wreck-job on the Hurricanes, taking out Jeff Skinner with a clean but stout check, bloodying Chad Larose in the ensuing fight, and later fighting and bloodying Ivey League enforcer Kevin Westgarth in the same game. Three scalps in his first game back, and he wasn’t even warmed up! His return, combined with Karlsson’s improbable recovery mean that the Senators have a rare combination of size* and talent.

The questions for the above group have to do with age and injury. Is Karlsson up to game speed yet? How will he adjust to the forechecking? In last night’s game against Boston, future winner of the Sean Avery Award for Player Voted to be Most Loathsome by the NHLPA, Brad Marchand, rocked Karlsson and touched off of a brawl. This suggests a certain sensitivity on the young defender’s health. Gonchar is old enough to be Paul MacLean’s father for anyone knows, and like Markov to a certain extent, might be vulnerable defensively.

Goaltending

Sometime after escaping the hockey hole of Florida, Craig Anderson became a strong NHL-calibre goaltender. If you click on the NHL.com stats page, his face is at the top of the list for two of the four goaltending stats. The weak point in his game these days seems to be his health, as this season and last he’s missed time with injuries. This wasn’t really a problem for the Senators, who became adept at playing goaltending musical chairs this season while playing both the eminently tradeable Ben Bishop and the young stopper Robin Lehner. Lehner’s pretty good and pretty huge, not to mention wrathful.** Given Price’s contemptible foray into the world of goalie punch-ups, he should stay away from the Sens backup if it ever comes to it.***

(Photo by Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)
(Photo by Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Scrapping aside, Price is often talked about as one of the best goalies in the game. Where Anderson’s grinning mug is at the top of the conventional goalie statistics lists, Price is nowhere near the top of such lists. Why this is has a certain amount to do with the Canadiens giving up relatively few shots, but when they do, they allow dangerous scoring chances. Still, it’s hard to argue that Price had a great season. He can still play well on occasion, as evidenced by his huge stop in the recent Tampa Bay game, but will he go full klepto in the playoffs? The Canadiens might need some full klepto from their goalies. As for Budaj, let’s just hope there’s significantly more footage of him wearing a ball cap than a goalie helmet this spring.

Two Go In, One Come Out

Habs fans can confidently predict that the Canadiens will easily win the opening ceremony battle against Ottawa. Sure, puck drop ceremonies at Flambeau Field can drag on longer than your average installment Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, but it’s hard to remember a city embarrassing itself as badly as that time in 2008. 

As for the actual series, it will be close. In the regular season, three of the games were decided by a goal, and the fourth was a solid beatdown won by Ottawa, 5-1. The Canadiens forwards might have trouble against that old-growth forest of defenders in Ottawa, but then Ottawa’s offence may not do much to trouble Carey Price either. One obvious mismatch between the teams is grit. Chris Neil is going to hurt people. Methot is going to hurt people. Cowen and Zack Smith are hungry. Brandon Prust, Colby Armstrong, Ryan White, and Tinordi will need to push back and protect their teammates in this respect, particularly against the predatory Neil.

But Prust can help in other ways. For example, someone will need to respond to the galling mustache that MacLean flaunts to the distraction of his opponents. Perhaps Prust can take the extra time off between the regular season and playoffs to grow a mustache of his own that Habs fans can adoringly refer to as the ‘Prustache’, inspiring them to wear aggressive mustaches to Flambeau Field to distort whatever powers are being sucked up MacLean’s facial hair.

It is of especial importance to harass MacLean in any way possible, because whatever tactical adjustment/mis-adjustment that lead to the Canadiens going moldy at the end of the season, he’ll find it. Therrien will have work to do in practice, plugging those strategic holes and preparing his team to play disciplined, tough hockey.

As they proved last year against the Rangers, these Senators aren’t giving games away to higher seeds. They’ll have to work for it, but if the rookies keep playing well and the defence holds up, the Canadiens can take this series, particularly if Price lives up to his reputation.

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*Methot, 6-foot-3, 227 pounds/ Wiercioch, 6-foot-5, 196 pounds/ Jared Cowen, 6-foot-5, 230 pounds/ Phillips, 6-foot-3, 221 pounds.

** The play-by-play announcer on this call reacts to the impending goalie fight as if his parents took him out to the backyard to reveal that his birthday gift was a pony, a real live pony.

***In retrospect, Price passing up the opportunity to punch Thomas into unconsciousness might have been a miss on the ol’ public relations.

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