A Game 7 Showdown That Left Us Bitter
You know, during my coaching career thus far, I’ve tried not only to develope the skill sets of my players, but their emotional attachment to the game. Part of that attachment requires them to be ready for these types of games, without my intervention or encouragement.
The emotionless demeanour of Canadiens’ coach Jacques Martin played a major role in the team’s inability to be engaged for such a huge game. The first five to ten minutes of an elimination game normally dictates how the game will progress and yesterday was no different. The Bruins were the hungrier of the two rivals out of the gate, and it took a timeout by Coach Martin to get the Habs back on track.
Speaking Of The Coach…
When Jacques Martin was hired as the coach of the NHL’s most storied franchise, he promised fans a puck possession style and high octane offense. Instead, we were given an overly-defensive style of play, where the team relied on the opponent’s mistakes and undisciplined play to take generate offensive opportunities. This defensive “funnel”, with all five Canadiens players inside their side of centre, was employed without a forecheck, allowing the opposition to attack the offensive zone with more speed than the defense could handle.
If we, as fans and media, can recognize the deficiencies and flaws in the Canadiens’ style of play, it is certain that the Bruins did as well, which explains their domination at even strength. Bruins coach Claude Julien counter-acted the strategy of the Habs by attacking the weak side, where only two players were used to cover the defensive zone. Pushing the play towards the right of the Canadiens’ goal, and umping it in cross-ice allowed the Bruins to attack the slowest of the Canadiens’ six defensemen, those being Hal Gill, Roman Hamrlik and, of course, Jaroslav Spacek.
A brilliant adjustment by the Bruins’ coaching staff, and an observation that ultimately cost the Canadiens a chance to advance to the second round.
Linesmen Are Becoming Worse Than Referees
A linesman’s job, when preparing to drop the puck, is to settle into his position and take five seconds to drop the puck once the centres have placed their sticks in position. In recent years, these NHL officials have become intolerable, in regards to the placement and movements of players preparing to battle for puck possession.
If anything, these players have to exert an huge amount of leverage on the sticks and adjust their centre of balance in an attempt to get the upper hand on their counterpart. Maintaining that position is very strenuous on a player’s knee and back and requires an incredible amount of strength. In delaying the drop of the puck, and subsequently removing an offending player from the face-off circle, the linesman gives an unfair advantage to one or the other.
And to take advantage of this fact, the Bruins asked their centremen to take as long as they could to set up for the face-off, forcing the Canadiens to wait longer and giving the linesmen the necessary reason to toss the Habs’ player from the dot. You would think the officials would catch on at some point, but they didn’t, and you can again credit the coaching staff on the Bruins for noticing this, and using it to their advantage.
Ultimately, Hockey is More Than Xs and Os
At the end of it all, the message I am trying convey is pretty simple. The playoffs aren’t as simple as the regular season. While coaching in the regular season, strategy is simple, because you face so many different opponents. You can’t look at every little detail of every opponent you face, or your coaching staff would have more than four or five people on it.
The playoffs are an entirely different animal. Because your facing one opponent over an extended period of time, you need to look your rival with a fine tooth comb. You need to exploit every advantage and every little weakness that is presented to you.
This series was won ultimately by the brilliant adjustments that were made by Bruins Coach Claude Julien. With his first line in the doldrums, he managed to win a playoff series without scoring on the power play, a feat only achieved once before by the 1952 Boston Bruins.
The gang at Causeway Crowd should be in a euphoric state today, as they should be. Check out thier take on their upcoming Eastern Semi-Final battle with the Philadelphia Flyers, and the gang form BroadStreet Buzz.
For Canadian hockey fans, check out The Canuck Way to stay in tune with the only hope left of bringing the Stanley Cup north of the 49th parallel.
And for everything to do with the NHL Playoffs, stay online to Too Many Men On The Site.