Coaching Decision Costs The Habs Against Pittsburgh

Sometimes, we as fans give too much credit to the coaches. Sometimes, it’s the opposite. As Barry Trotz is proving once again, coaching makes a world of difference, especially when players “buy into the system”. Some decisions work, others well… not so much. The best coaches however will adapt throughout a game. He will recognize what works and what doesn’t and will adjust on the fly. As Albert Einstein once said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Claude Julien is a good coach, let’s be totally clear about that. He’s a coach who can adapt and he’s proven that this season, when he totally changed the Canadiens’ style of play. They are now an exciting team to watch… most nights. Last night was the Canadiens’ single most important game of the season against a team that was fighting directly with them for the last playoffs’ spots. A team that can count on the best player in the world: Sidney Crosby.

Sidney Crosby had a heyday against Jeff Petry and Jordie Benn.

Prior to the game, Penguins’ head coach Mike Sullivan submits his starting line-up. He wants to make a statement, start the game on the right foot, so he puts Crosby’s line on the ice to start the game. Claude Julien is made aware of that and he decides to oppose… Jeff Petry and Jordie Benn against them. Results? Benn turns the puck over, Crosby takes full advantage and seconds into that crucial game, gives his team a 1-0 lead.

Petry and Benn was a combination that was tried at times this season (and last) and it never worked. They are not compatible and we, as fans, have noticed that. Reuniting them was mind boggling to start with. Putting them up against Crosby, when he has Shea Weber, arguably the best shutdown defenseman at his disposition, was insanity.

To make matters worse, Julien kept with this matchup all night. The results? A four points night for Crosby and a 5-1 shellacking at the hands of Pittsburgh in front of a dumbfounded crowd at the Bell Centre. And the Habs can’t use the excuse that they had played the night before as the Penguins also played on Friday night. No excuses… except a bad, bad game plan by the coach who was too stubborn to adjust and react seeing that it wasn’t working. This loss in the most important game of the season, it’s not on Benn, Petry, Domi, Price, Weber and company. This loss is solely on Claude Julien.

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Shea Weber: A Mountain Of An Impact

Toronto Maple Leafs’ head coach Mike Babcock nicknamed him Man Mountain. He was voted by his peers the most difficult defenseman to play against. He is one of the best leaders in the entire NHL. He has the most feared shot in the league. His teammates call him “Dad”. David Schlemko was recently quoted saying that he’s “stupidly strong”. Young Jesperi Kotkaniemi said that he almost peed himself seeing his shot come at him on the powerplay. He is the team captain and, in spite of missing an entire year, he’s playing like an All-Star. 

Shea Weber is… well, Shea Weber. With him back, the smallish Canadiens have all grown a couple of inches. Everyone is benefiting from his return and yes, even Jeff Petry who did extremely well in Weber’s absence, but whose ice time was ridiculously high. But what is the impact of Weber on the Habs exactly? 

Weber returned to action on November 27th and prior to the game in Minnesota, he had played six (6) games. His personal results? Three (3) goals, two (2) assists, five (5) points. A differential of plus -5 with 24 shots on goal and 20 hits (3.3 hits per game, tops on the Habs). He has solidified the penalty kill units and has provided another weapon to an otherwise pretty anemic powerplay. 

Beyond Weber’s stats

When you talk about Weber, players think leadership and while (some) fans may see that as overrated, people around hockey know the importance of having quality leadership. Habs’ players are no different. While this was a pretty solid and tight group to start with, Dad is back and it shows. 

Since Weber’s return, the Canadiens have a 4-2-0 record. They have tightened their defensive play, allowing only 13 goals (2.17/GP) on 163 shots (27.1/GP). They have also scored 20 (3.33/GP) and fired 243 shots on goal (40.5/GP). Better defense, more offense, which usually means more wins than losses. 

Carey Price has benefited from Weber’s return.

But none has benefited more of Weber’s return than goaltender Carey Price. Struggling with consistency since Man Mountain was shelved last season, we are starting to see the confident and dominant Price that we love in Montreal. In the last six games, Price has stopped 150 of the 163 shots in his direction for a respectable .920 Sv%. His goals’ against average during that time is 2.19. 

Before the season started, I had predicted that if the Canadiens were in a playoffs’ race by the time Weber came back, they would be in the playoffs in the Spring. While this is still a young team with ups and downs, I still believe that unless catastrophe hits again, they will play hockey well into April. Go Habs Go!