For too many years, the Montreal Canadiens were the laughing stocks of the NHL as one of the teams icing the smallest players in the entire league, a phenomenon that earned them the nickname of Smurfs. They were fast though, but when the going got tough against bigger and tougher teams, or down the stretch and in the playoffs, they were more often than not out muscled and spent most of their time on their back or on their knees.
While team GM Marc Bergevin was trying to find a defense partner for Shea Weber and some scoring help for his top-6 offensively at this year’s trade deadline, he was also looking at getting his team bigger and meaner, to better support his skilled and sometimes smaller players. And while the prices were too high for a defenseman or a scoring forward, Bergevin did not miss the boat when it came to adding some much needed grit and muscles to a team that desperately needed it. And as he mentioned in his March 1st press conference, he didn’t sacrifice speed in doing so.
Have a look at Chris Neil trying to intimidate veteran Andrei Markov, and notice who shows up to stop him on his tracks. This happened in between whistles.
Those same Senators took out the Canadiens in the playoffs a few years ago by playing the card of intimidation and with physical play, and the Habs and Sens will be facing each other three times between March 18-25. With Bergevin’s deadline acquisitions, Ottawa’s game plan has just changed, you can rest assured.
At the deadline, Bergevin traded for 6-foot 4-inches, 229 pounds Dwight King, 6-foot 3-inches, 220 pounds Andreas Martinsen and rugged centreman Steve Ott. All three had an impact since then and while Advanced stats gurus will deny that as hard as they can, only because it cannot be measured statistically, don’t be fooled by them thinking intimidation is not a factor in the NHL. It’s a huge factor. Just look at the end of the game against the Rangers, in New York.
J.T. Miller put his gloves up on Jeff Petry not once, but twice, before the defenseman knocked the stick out of Miller’s hands. Miller then skated in front of Carey Price who proceeded to give him a shot. And that’s when you see Steve Ott show up in the picture and he didn’t leave his side for the last 15-20 seconds of the game. What did Miller do? Absolutely nothing. What would he have done had Ott not been there? Who knows, but this move by Ott ensured that nothing would happen to anyone on the ice.
Will there be some physical stuff happening against the Canadiens? Absolutely. It’s part of hockey. But what the presence of those three, with the support of Andrew Shaw and, to a lesser point, Jordie Benn does, it’s the knowledge that if something goes wrong, if something happens, someone will be able to respond in an intimidating way. Let’s face it: you have Shaw showing up at 5-foot 11-inches and 185 pounds, or you have King, Martinsen, Weber or Ott coming, it doesn’t have the same effect, particularly to guys like Neil. This team will not be intimidated anymore. Go Habs Go!