Individual toughness, team toughness, size, grit, character, effort, desire… all words and expressions that find Habs’ fans around the world differing in opinions, whether it’s about specific players or in general when talking about the team that we all love.
To be more physical or not to be, that is the question. We have seen a few instances where teams have taken it to the Canadiens physically in recent weeks and each time, it wasn’t pretty. Against the Rangers, the BlueShirts set the tone early and often by taking the body each chance they had and returned to the dressing room at the first intermission with a 5-1 lead, basically putting the game out of hand against one of the worst offensive teams in the league. The bigger St. Louis Blues did the same with a similar result and so did the Leafs when the two teams last met on February 24th. The Canadiens founds themselves behind the eight ball against the Islanders for the same reason but nowhere was it more apparent than during the February 9th meeting between the Bruins and the Habs.
If fans can see that pattern developing, we can rest assured that NHL pro scouts from other organizations have also taken note and we are likely to see more and more of the same as the playoffs’ intensity picks up and teams are willing to do whatever it takes to either make the playoffs, improve their position in the standings or simply send a message in case both teams meet this spring.
There has also been another pattern forming, one that’s alarming for the coaching staff and for the fans. Because they don’t have the size and intimidation factor on their side, the Canadiens find themselves retaliating with minor penalties, forcing an already offensively challenged team to have to defend more times that it should. In fact, only the Pittsburgh Penguins have taken more minor penalties than the Habs in the entire league!
So what is or will be the strategy against the Habs in the playoffs or in a must win game from now on? Take the body to them and take it often. They’ll get frustrated, they will likely become undisciplined and hope that your team will able to capitalize on the powerplay.
But it’s not all bad. Yes, the Habs are missing some key pieces. Yes, this team manages to keep its head above water and win their fair share of games. This team is definitely a resilient one, a quality that everyone should admire and respect.
But do they have the necessary tools go to war against bigger and more physical teams like the Bruins, Flyers, Rangers, over a 7 games series? And if they do win one, how much will they have left in the tank for the next series? It’s food for thoughts for GM Gauthier this summer as imagine if they had the resiliency and size…
En français: Le manque de robustesse pourrait être coûteux