Game Review: Habs – Senators, Game 1

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(Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

By Jacob Saltiel, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

MONTREAL, QC. — By one measure, Patrick Wiercioch is one of the best players on the Senators, behind only Erik Karlsson, while Eric Gryba is one of the worst, ahead of only Dave Dziurzynski. This didn’t stop Paul MacLean’s Mustache from inserting Gryba into the lineup in place of Wiercioch. Why might he have done this? Gryba himself may have supplied the response as related by Arpon Basu (@ArponBasu): “Being an intimidating team is something that we want to do.” Indeed, Wiercioch weighs slightly less than 200lbs, while Gryba weighs a sturdier 222lbs. Before his ejection, Gryba was the most vulnerable Ottawa defender, giving up the puck and struggling to contain the speedy Habs forwards. He was on the ice for Bourque’s goal, and regardless of whether or not the league suspends him, it’s possible that may be the last the Canadiens see of him in the series.

I Turned On the Hockey Game and Got CSI

(Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

As suggested previously, the Senators are larger and hit more and hit harder than the Canadiens. MacLean’s Mustache has clearly caught on to this disparity, and seems to have set its tactics accordingly. Wear down the Canadiens with attrition, and bash them out of the playoffs. Lars Eller will not be back for this series, and it’s unclear if he could even return of the Canadiens played another month and a half. P.K. Subban’s sweet hipcheck on Chris Neil aside, the Canadiens did not do enough to intimidate the Senators, and while many will repeat the tired narrative that Eller’s injury will ‘galvanize the room’ or whatever, the fact is the Canadiens are better with Eller in the lineup than without. MacLean’s Mustache and the Senators, while not necessarily intending to gruesomely injure people, definitely prepared to batter and strike fear in the Canadiens.

Before addressing the legality of the hit, there’s an important quotation from Raphael Diaz in the post-game interview in response to whether or not the pass he made was part of the Therrien’s system: “Yeah, yeah. Like we always try to play our game… Support each other and right away to go to the rush.” The implication here is that, if this play is a staple of Therrien’s system, then MacLean’s Mustache will have seen it on tape. In preparing his players, he will have warned them to watch out for the outlet pass. Gryba would have seen the play developing and known where to go to break it up. Diaz denies having seen Gryba, and Eller clearly had no idea what he was labeled for, which indicates that the Senators knew what the Habs have planned. In the future, Habs players will be hesitant to try this again in light of Eller’s gruesome example. As Dr. Strangelove once said “deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy the fear to attack.”

The CBC panel was quick to argue that this was a completely clean hit, and P.J. Stock denied that the referee should even have called a penalty. To be clear; Gryba was neither late, nor did he lead with the elbow, jump, or take too many steps. If Gryba will be suspended, it will be for a violation of Rule 48, the NHL’s murky headshot rule. Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) explained that the hit will be suspendable if it can be determined that the principle point of contact was the head. He goes on to say the league specifically looks to see if there’s “body-on-body contact… in addition shoulder to head contact”. By his reckoning, Gryba got enough of the body to escape supplementary discipline. Kerry Fraser argued much the same on “C’mon Ref,” saying that it was primarily a hip on hip hit, where secondary contact was made with the shoulder to the head. The problem here is with Rule 48. Even though Gryba quite clearly fails to take the shoulder on Eller and strikes him in the head- this is indiputable. That the rule must have been written to keep hitting in the game- you can hit someone in the head as long as it’s a part of a full body hit- will almost certainly mean that Gryba will not be suspended. Never mind that Ryan White was recently suspended for five games for aiming for Kent Huskins’ shoulder and only getting the face, reporters will say with one side of their mouths that they hope Eller’s health improves, while with the other side blaming Diaz for passing him the puck, laud Gryba for his clean check, and even wonder why Eller put himself at risk.

MacLean’s Mustache proved itself a brilliant trashtalker in the postgame press conference. Claiming he had no idea who number 61 was* but that Therrien should be made at Diaz for injuring Eller, denied any responsibility on Gryba’s part. Whenever the media gets around to relaying these comments to Therrien, you can expect him to flip. Unfortunately for the ‘Stache, the NHL appears to disagree:

Gryba will get one of those strange Shanahan phonecalls where they talk about the most recent episode of Game of Thrones for a while before Shanahan politely asks him to apologize. Maybe Shanahan will apply the headshot rule and give him a game or two. Determining that will have to wait till tomorrow.

I Was Watching CSI and a Hockey Game Broke Out

(Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

As for the game itself, the Canadiens losing this one is a bad omen. If the Canadiens ring up 50 shots a night for the rest of the series, even Craig Anderson won’t be able to keep the Senators in it, but if Carey Price keeps playing this way, he certainly can. That second goal was a beachball, and even though the Senators were pushing back, you’d hope that your alleged all-world goaltender would make them work harder for the tying goal than that. Especially so when Craig Anderson made the Habs work so hard at even strength and the penalty kill, yielding only a pair of sweet goals by Rene Bourque and Brendan Gallagher, each of whom made extremely difficult shots from in tight to beat him.

Gryba aside, the Senators pushed around the Habs, with Cowen flooring Max Pacioretty early and the hit parade continuing throughout. Brandon Prust, Ryan White, and Travis Moen didn’t get to the Sens defense, and when they did, didn’t succeed in bowling them over. There was a comical moment on CBC when Glenn Healy complained that the Canadiens were simply letting Erik Karlsson skate anywhere he wants, prompting a bemused Elliott Friedman to say, and I paraphrase, that “The Canadiens simply aren’t set up to wear teams down in a physical series.” Unfortunately for Canadiens fans, it certainly seemed that way in Game 1. The grinders will need to improve on Friday night if they’re to have a chance, but the way Karlsson moves, it’s going to take chloroform to slow him down sufficiently to hit him. Prust did distinguish himself by starting the game clean-shaven, and visibly growing his beard throughout the game. Such are the wonders of HD television.

Lost in the Habs barrage was that the Senators cracked 30 shots too. Subban was everywhere and provided a great clip for the concluding playoffs CBC montage when he returned to the bench absolutely jacked up and yelling at his teammates to get in the game. Andrei Markov looked slow and ineffective, which was too be expected, but alarmingly, Josh Gorges didn’t look much better. Diaz made some great shots and passes, though his suicide pass to Eller and denial that he saw Gryba were unconvincing (replays don’t appear to show anything impeding Diaz’s vision). Jarred Tinordi didn’t look horrible, but, fairly or not, the Habs will need him to start dropping bodies. Francis Bouillon is… Francis Bouillon, and he struggles against fast or large forwards. On the relatively few shifts where the Sens weren’t playing rope-a-dope, their forwards’ attacks (usually lead by Mika Zibanejad or Kyle Turris) were able to work over the Habs defense provided Subban wasn’t on the ice.

Down 1-0, What Now?

That was game one, and the Habs will have to forget it and take one from the Senators tomorrow. They’ll be a different team, and it’ll be dicey for whoever they move to centre to cover for the wounded Eller. They’ll have to keep firing pucks on net to get by Anderson, and without suggesting outright assault, push back with more hitting and to start harassing the Senators defense into making mistakes and giving up better chances on net. As for Price, he didn’t do anything to confirm the praise he gets from his followers or for those who claim he’s an all-world goaltender last night, and he’ll have to match his opposite number tomorrow night. With the feeling-out, first date stage of this series over with in game 1, the coaches will begin the tactical tinkering that will win or lose the series for their respective teams. Let’s see what Therrien will do, and who steps in for Eller between Colby Armstrong and Jeff Halpern.

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*How does an NHL coach who must watch hours of footage of the other team in preparation of a 7 game series not know the names, birthdates, shoe sizes and favourite colours of everyone on the opposing side?

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