Internet Hotstove is a series where Last Word On Sports asks the opinions of respected bloggers from around the internet about their team’s chances in the 2013-14 NHL Playoffs. The goal is to get a broad view of opinion from around the league as an alternative to other playoff previews.
Since trading for Thomas Vanek at the deadline the Montreal Canadiens have looked like a threat in the NHL’s Eastern Conference. Vanek joined a Canadiens team already graced with the talent of Olympic gold medallist Carey Price, defending Norris Trophy winner PK Subban and Max Pacioretty. As Canada’s only entry into the 2013-14 Playoffs they have a lot of weight on their shoulders. But after last year’s surprise loss at the hands of the Ottawa Senators they will be hungry for success this time around.
Meet the bloggers:
Rosalyn Roy– Writer for HabsAddict.Com @Tygerlylly
Brian La Rose- Chief Editor for HabsWorld.Net @habsworld_net
1. Who is the Habs playoff x-factor?
Roy: I’d put it at Michel Therrien. This coach is not known for his ability to adjust strategy in game and his line matchups tend to suck even when he has last change. When you’re skating against a good, fast team led by Steven Stamkos those coaching abilities need to be sharp, especially in the post-season. It’s not just the players that will have to elevate their game if Montreal wants to go deep in the playoffs.
La Rose: Lars Eller. If he can rediscover his offensive game, it will give Montreal some secondary scoring which is an area they’re lacking at the moment. Getting that going should boost his confidence which should also pay dividends on the other side of the puck. Tomas Plekanec and his line will draw the top checking assignment but if Eller can handle opponents’ second lines, the Habs should be in good shape defensively. He’s going to be an important player for the Canadiens in the postseason.
2. How much does the injury to Alex Galchenyuk hurt the Habs in the first round?
Roy: It echoes throughout the lineup, so it’s actually a bigger deal than folks might realize. Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher are proven to play well together, and Tomas Plekanec has been able to unleash more of his offensive talent as their pivot instead of being relegated to an almost entirely defensive role. Galchenyuk has great vision and hands, a huge body, skates hard and drives the net. He makes a difference and works hard with two linemates who play a similar style and they were enjoying a lot of success lately. In his last five games alone prior to injury Galchenyuk had a goal and two assists. Meanwhile Brian Gionta is not the offensive threat he used to be and while he is defensively sound he is likely to be put back on Plekanec’s wing where he already found very limited success this year, while Therrien fiddles with the third line combos where Gionta was doing just fine. Losing Galchenyuk basically reduces firepower on the second line, potentially the third, and fiddles with the team chemistry that had gotten much stronger as of late.
La Rose: I think the effect will be minimal at most. Galchenyuk has avoided criticism for the most part but since returning from injury he had just three goals in 21 games and was goalless in nine games before getting hurt the first time. Long-term, not having him in the postseason at least early on will hurt in terms of his development a bit but him missing the first round shouldn’t have much of an effect on their chances vs Tampa Bay. There are other players who can replace the level of production that Galchenyuk has provided lately.
3. Is Carey Price finally ready to achieve his playoff potential?
Roy: I guess that can kind of depend on what you mean by playoff potential. It’s a team sport and he can’t be the only one out there playing for the Cup, as was evidenced in the game versus the Islanders. That said, I really don’t think there’s a Habs fan who doubts him at this point unless they’ve missed watching the bulk of the season. The arrival of Stephane Waite has done wonders for Carey Price’s confidence which has likely never been higher, and technically he is sound. There was some concern when he got injured during the Olympics but even watching the game versus the Islanders, when the rest of the team faltered in front of him Price was rock solid, as he has been for much of the year despite streaks of shaky firepower and injured defensemen in front of him. He has been the Canadiens most consistent strength all season and there’s no reason for that not to continue. Waite did wonders with Corey Crawford in Chicago during their two recent Stanley Cup Championships and I have no doubt he’ll continue to make a difference for Carey during the post-season. Price will do his part.
La Rose: If he doesn’t live up to his potential now, there are going to be some questions as to whether or not he ever will. Price hasn’t faltered since getting hurt at the Olympics, while his success in Sochi helps to eliminate the question as to whether or not he can play under pressure. Having that momentum heading into the postseason is a nice contrast to last year where he was struggling mightily in the final weeks. The time is now for Price to step up and he should be up to the task.
4. What is the biggest thing Montreal can learn from last year’s playoff disappointment?
Roy: Don’t get injured! Don’t let Carey Price get injured! The series against the Ottawa Senators was tough. They’re a big, physical team and they have some firepower. Losing Lars Eller and Carey Price to injury basically took the wind out of their sails pretty quickly. There’s not much you can do about the injury bug. Sometimes it’s just bad luck. That said there was some good that came out of the playoffs and that was the glimmers of experience afforded rookies like Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher. Then there’s the fact that Montreal was never supposed to make the post-season in the first place, that they were supposed to be near the bottom of the heap for most of the season and instead forced some crow down some unsuspecting throats. This happened back in 2010 also when they got past powerhouses Washington and Pittsburgh and challenged for the Eastern Conference title against Philadelphia. This team seems to do better when everyone underestimates them and despite having a pretty solid and consistent year, never really out of playoff position, not many experts have them getting past the first round. I don’t know that they need to learn anything new from last year’s playoff disappointment so much as to keep in mind what they have known for years – they’re better than most give them credit for.
La Rose: Don’t get rattled. Last year, things took a turn for the worse when Eller got hurt early and spiralled downward after that with Craig Anderson stealing the show; their frustrations eventually led to them focusing more on the physical aspect of the game which as we all know didn’t end well for Montreal. There’s going to be adversity in the postseason and last year the Habs couldn’t have responded much worse than how they did. If they learned their lessons and stay focused this time around, they’ll be better off for it.
5. How far do you expect the Canadiens to go?
Roy: The Stanley Cup can rest on fluke bounce, an iffy goal, a key injury, and so many variables that it gets hard to predict. I didn’t foresee last year’s injuries late in the year to most of the team’s key players either, nor the ones during the playoffs. I think the Canadiens can skate with any team in the league when they want to do it, including the reigning Cup champs Chicago Blackhawks. They have at least proved that much this season. If they can avoid injury, if wild card Michel Therrien can pull it all together, I think this team has the potential to surprise a lot of naysayers. I expect it will be a tooth and nail fight for them all the way, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them have to face Boston once they get past Tampa Bay. After that it’s anybody’s guess.
La Rose: Their first round matchup is more or less a coin flip, depending on the injury status for Ben Bishop. I think the Habs can prevail over Tampa Bay in a long series but that’s as far as they’ll get. Although they have enjoyed some success against Boston recently, I believe the Bruins would prevail over Montreal in the second round. After the disappointing end to the 2013 postseason, that would still be a step in the right direction for the Canadiens.