Habs' system isn't pretty, but it's working

CanWest News Service
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NHL PLAYOFFS/CANADIENS-PENGUINS

The Montreal Canadiens are confident "the system" that focuses on defence will continue to pay off in their Eastern Conference semifinal against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

Game 3 of the best-of-seven series, tied 1-1, is tonight at the Bell Centre, where the Canadiens hope solid play defensively, stellar goaltending from Jaroslav Halak, a contagious willingness to block shots, and timely scoring will be enough to beat the favoured Penguins for the second time in three days.

Goaltender Jaroslav Halak (right) has grabbed much of the attention for the Montreal Canadiens' ability to prevent goals in these playoffs, but shot-blocking defenceman like Hal Gill (left) are playing a big role, too. - Photo by Canwest News Service

Montreal -

The Montreal Canadiens are confident "the system" that focuses on defence will continue to pay off in their Eastern Conference semifinal against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

Game 3 of the best-of-seven series, tied 1-1, is tonight at the Bell Centre, where the Canadiens hope solid play defensively, stellar goaltending from Jaroslav Halak, a contagious willingness to block shots, and timely scoring will be enough to beat the favoured Penguins for the second time in three days.

The Canadiens evened the series with a 3-1 win in Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon despite being outshot 39-21, including 30-9 over the last 40 minutes.

Defenceman Josh Gorges said there's no need to abandon a system which has been effective even though at times it appears the team is like a target in a carnival shooting gallery.

"I don't think so," Gorges said. "We know what works for us. If we're going to give up shots, that's fine as long as our goalie can see them and we don't give up second and third opportunities. They can shoot from the outside all they want.

"When you plays teams with the talent Pittsburgh has they're going to create chances," said Gorges. "They're going to get shots, but if you can force them to shoot from the outside and not allow them second and third opportunities, than we're doing a good job. We're doing what we want to do.

"Obviously we want to crack down on the shots," he added. "We don't want to give them as many shots as they've had. But as long as we're doing the job in front of the net, protecting our goalie, we're giving ourselves a chance to win."

The Canadiens netminders have faced 355 shots through nine games in the playoffs, the most by any team playing in the second round. Not included are the number of shots players like Gorges and defenceman Hal Gill have blocked, or those missing the net.

Gill and Gorges blocked 31 and 20 shots, respectively, in the seven-game first round against the Washington Capitals during which the Canadiens turned back a league-high 181, including 41 in the deciding game, a 2-1 win in Washington. Halak faced another 42.

By comparison, the New Jersey Devils, losers in five games to the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round, blocked a total of 56 shots.

Forward Michael Cammalleri says the fact the team can stay poised under fire reflects the confidence it has in Halak and the belief in a system that's worked well while maybe not appearing pretty at times.

"Our goaltender has been giving us a lot of confidence, so goaltending is a big reason for our poise. We kinda found a way to stay calm in those situations," said Cammalleri, who leads the team with eight goals in nine playoff games. "We realize we're going to have to defend against good players on good teams who are going to make good plays.

"We'd like to play more in their end, more on the attack," he said. "We'd like to have the puck more, we're working on that. We don't want to sit back and give up 50 shots every night."

Head coach Jacques Martin says the system, which requires attention to detail, wasn't a tough sell to his players and has been progressing since the start of the playoffs.

"Players that won in the past, who've achieved success, recognize that," said Martin. "I think when you look at some of the better teams, even when you look at the heydays of the Penguins with Mario (Lemieux), and even the Pens of today, they play more wide open in the regular season, but they know the importance of defence in the playoffs. That's why they're a good team. Why they won the Stanley Cup last year.

"For us, it's been the little things," said Martin. "The commitment that some of the players have made to blocking shots. It's a definite sign that players are engaged and believe."

Organizations: Montreal Canadiens, Penguins, NHL CANADIENS-PENGUINS Bell Centre Washington Capitals New Jersey Devils Philadelphia Flyers

Geographic location: Pittsburgh, Montreal

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