April 17, 2011

Bruins/Habs: The First Two Games

I agree with Paula's points in her last post. Here are some more thoughts about what is happening in this series, and how to make it better.

First, some stats.
GF: 5th GA: 2nd PP: 20th PK: 16th SV%: 1st
+51 goal differential
32.9 shots for/game (3rd) 32.7 SA/g (29th)

GF: 21st GA: 8th PP: 7th PK: 7th SV%: 5th
+7 goal differential
31.7 SF/g (9th) 31 SA/g (18th)

Besides Montreal's odd disparity in shots for vs. goals for, all of this paints a very clear picture of these two teams. The Bruins are strong but somewhat reckless. We have the ability to kick the crap out of other teams, as is evident by our high goals for and goal differential.

The Bruins are known as a defensive team; however, the defense has struggled to move the puck all year. Chara and Seidenberg are high points. Johnny Boychuk ranges from our 2nd defenseman to the worst player on the ice, Ference does what he can, and Adam McQuaid's struggle with anxiety only sometimes works in our favor. We let up more shots than anyone but Carolina. Our low goals against is entirely due to Timmy.

This, coupled with our horrid special teams, is indicative of a disorganized team. All year the Bruins' biggest problem was mental. When they lost it was because they panicked and lost focus. One could often pinpoint the exact moment at which they freaked out. Going into the playoffs, I said I thought they had the ability to win the Stanley Cup, but that by no means meant they would.

I should explain now that I don't think PP and PK are as important as GF, GA, or SV%. The main reason I include those stats is because they reflect on the coach. There are limitations on every team, so a team can be stronger in one special team or the other and still have a decent coach. However, if a very strong team is in the bottom of the league in both categories, it is a sign that things are not running smoothly. On the other hand, if an otherwise mediocre team has very good special teams, it is a sign that the players are doing what the coach wants, and that the coach wants the right things.

Montreal can't score. They have some skill up front but overall their forwards are their weakness. Their strength is goaltending, defense, and special teams. Their low goal differential means that they only won games by a small margin. Going into this series, I believed we could steamroll over them simply by outscoring them. There was no way Montreal could keep up with our offense.

But there was something I didn't take into consideration: Jacques Martin knows all of this. All of it. His teams strengths, the Bruins weaknesses, both teams' style of play. He clearly studied numbers and video extensively, probably obsessively. He knew there was only one way his team could beat ours, and he figured out how to make sure the series was played exactly that way. What we've gotten is a low-scoring series and an emotionally fragile Bruins team that may be too traumatized by the first two games to recover.

This is what the Habs have been doing to make the Bruins look bad:
  1. Chipping the puck over our heads into the neutral zone or deep into our zone. They do this a lot without icing the puck, meaning they practiced it. While that play gives us possession, it puts the puck in the hands of our de, who have had trouble making clean breakout passes all year. Montreal is doing this over and over again to test our de, and our de have mostly failed. Kaberle has suddenly lost the ability to move the puck, and Johnny Boy passes it to Plekanec more often than any Bruin. Seidenberg consistently makes plays no one else can, and Andrew Ference has had the most success carrying the puck up, but that still means 67% of our defensemen are terrifying and ineffective. Chara has an excuse. Kaberle does not.
  2. Collapsing down on our forwards the second they enter the offensive zone. This either forces a turnover or forces us to dump the puck in deep. Unlike the Bruins, the Habs defensemen are very strong, and their breakout is a thing of beauty when they have time and space.
This is what the Bruins should be doing:
  1. First and foremost, the de need to settle the fuck down. They can't expect the forwards to score if they can't keep the puck in the offensive zone and pass to the wrong team. As a former defensemen, I feel their plight, but I also know there is no place for fear in hockey. Work your hardest with every step and you'll have nothing to be nervous about.
  2. Close puck support. This is probably the biggest change in the system that needs to happen. Basically, the Bruins need to play more like Detroit. When a Red Wing loses the puck, the first player to get it is another Red Wing. Especially coming across the Habs' blue line, the Bruins should be right on top of one another. Nathan Horton isn't going to do any good breaking for the net if David Krejci skates alone into 3 Habs. If he skates into 3 Habs and is trailed by Milan Lucic, who can pick up the puck he loses and send it to Horton, that's another matter. Closely supporting the puck carrier also means they can make shorter passes, meaning fewer turnovers and more sustained puck possession. However, the only way this strategy is effective is if every player knows where their teammates are going, knows where they are supposed to be, and skates as hard as they can to get there.
  3. Forecheck. Their de need time to work their magic. We've had some success when we don't let them build momentum. Pressuring them also means they'll need to dish to their forwards sooner and more frequently, and like I said, their forwards are their weakness. We've won a lot of battles along the wall in the offensive zone, especially when our de pinch down early. We need to get the puck out of their defensemen's hands and then take it from their forwards.
  4. Generally, the Bruins have to move more in the offensive zone (themselves-- not just the puck). It's too easy for Carey Price to see and stop shots when they come from a stationary player. Instead of setting up in their zone and trying to force point shots when we clearly don't have shooting lanes, we need to keep moving throughout the zone. This automatically creates chances, as it spreads out their de and forces Price to scramble. They clog the slot, which has made things tricky for us. However, it also means there is more room to skate in the rest of the zone. We need to use that space. Standing still in the slot is only effective if we're about to shoot. Otherwise, keep moving. Help the forecheck. Pull a Brett Hull and wander around until you see an opportunity. Just keep swimming, guys.
  5. Entering the zone cleanly is another way to get movement in their zone. It's how we scored our only goal.
People in Boston are acting like this series is over. It is not over. Montreal has made us look bad but it's only because we've let them. The Bruins are still the better team. We can absolutely still win this series. Changes need to be made as a team and individually, but the Bruins should remember that every change they need to make is to be more like themselves and the team they were for most of the year. In the end they shouldn't try to be Detroit and shouldn't focus on countering Montreal's strategy-- that's up to Claude. The players just need to play like Bruins. If they do that, they'll never hear boos again.

Playoffs 2011

I have more to say about the Bruins than the rest of the league, so this post will be quick. Here are my WRAP rankings for 2011.

1. Vancouver (1.25)
2. Boston (6.75)
3. Washington (8.50)
4. San Jose (9.25)
5. Philadelphia (9.50)
5. Pittsburgh (9.50)
7. NY Rangers (10.25)
8. Montreal (10.38)
9. Nashville (10.88)
9. Chicago (10.88)
11. Detroit (11.75)
12. Buffalo (12.00)
13. Tampa Bay (12.50)
14. Anaheim (12.63)
15. Los Angeles (12.88)
16. Phoenix (14.25)

Calgary was tied with Phoenix, but besides that these were the top teams in the league. My picks for the first round, and likely every round after this, will be based entirely on these numbers. Other stats are enlightening but mostly supplemental.

Vancouver's numbers are silly good. They're first in goals for, goals against, power play%, and their conference, and second in penalty kill% and save% (and only because Timmy had the league record). That means that on average, they are the best in everything. Their division was terrible and they beat the crap out of them, which inflated their numbers, but their numbers are still out of this world. The best team is rarely under 3; I've never seen a team under 2 at any point in any season. They'd have to have a total collapse to lose, but that's never out of the question for the Canucks.

I was surprised to see the Blackhawks and Rangers battling just to be in the playoffs. They've both been fairly strong teams all year, with good stats in many categories and high goal differential. Chicago is offense-heavy and lacks goaltending; the defensive Rangers would be nothing without Lundqvist. I don't expect either team to win their series, but with different matchups I might. Like I said, Vancouver would have to totally collapse to lose, and Washington is just a better version of the Rangers with untapped offensive upside. Both series should be interesting at the very least.

The Southwest is a joke, and I'm surprised Tampa Bay beat the Penguins at all, nevermind 5-1 in game 2. The difference is that Roloson stopped 35 of 36 shots, while Fleury stopped 16 of 20. That's not how either goaltender played during the regular season, and is not how they'll likely play for the rest of the playoffs.

I can't get too excited about any of these series when the Bruins one has gone like it has. Once they get a win under their belts I'll watch other teams.

The Worst Kind of Hangover

The Bruins have come too far this season to end it like this. They can't do this to me, they just can't. My head is throbbing, I feel physically ill and embarassed looking down at the spoked B on my shirt.

My observations over the first two games.

-They aren't taking advantage of their opportunities. The Habs handed them some golden chances. But pucks kept rolling off sticks, countless turnovers, and all-around sloppy play.

-Shots. While the Bruins are getting a ton of shots on net, almost 99.9999% of those shots are right smack into Carey Price. Come on. Any professional goaltender can save these shots. Price is by NO MEANS standing on his head. They NEED to crash the net and pepper Price with any sort of shot. With clear shooting lanes he WILL see the puck and thus, save said puck. This is NOT rocket science and I'm getting so angry thinking about it. Create traffic in front of Price, force him to cough up rebounds, and put the God damned puck in the net.

-The Habs know the key to win a game against us is to keep the scoring low- play defensively and expose our weakness; which right now, is mainly the defense, puck control and turnovers. Bruins defensemen are having an awfully hard time controlling the puck and the Habs know it. They've got our number. We need to change something. The Habs keep lofting the puck in the air, over the Bruins heads into the neutral zone and it messes up the flow and the Bruins have to start over. Rinse and repeat. This happens OVER and OVER. And over. I'm not really sure why they haven't altered their game plan. It seems like such a simple fix. They desperately need to control and possess the puck better and it all comes down to hard, clean passes.

-WTF Defense. Best quote I've heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub today, "If you're gonna play a defensive style, you gotta have good defensemen."

Chara- I'm not going to rip on the big guy. He was dehydrated..whatever.. just get him some water and get him back in the game. We need him; the Habs are scared of him.

Seidenberg- By far our best defensemen throughout this playoff series so far. But we can't rely on one guy to do everything and play the entire game; he will tire eventually. Also, he did have some turnovers but I forgive him because he's played better than any other d-man.

Kaberle- Is it too late to get Mark Stuart back? I kid, I kid. Kaberle needs to calm the heck down. Or something. He seems nervous; he either loses the puck at the point, makes some weird pass off the boards that ends up on a Hab's stick, or he just stands still with the puck and doesn't shoot or pass it. When we first got him, he was patient in a good way. He was calm, cool and collected. Now, he's just..not. I'm so confused by him so I'm just going to leave it at that.

Ference- Inconsistency at it's finest. Made some good plays in Game 2, stepped up when he needed to but produced nothing. He's a smart guy. Tries to do the right things but perhaps is lacking in the skill department. Also, its a problem when I praise him for getting a shot thats relatively close to the net (i.e. 3-5 ft radius)due to his awful aim.

Boychuk- He's a mess. Trust me, I love the hip checks and open ice hits as much as the next guy. But what in tarnation has happened to Johnny Boychuk? Whenever he's at the point, I expect failure now. I am pleasantly surprised if he keeps it in at the point. He didn't have this problem in the regular season. He's scrambling around, his passes are sloppy and rushed. Leads to turnovers. Had a turnover then tried to redeem himself...by covering the wrong guy. He covers the wrong guy in front of the net almost always- and leaves another player open who ultimately gets a scoring chance. I'm so disappointed in his game and he seems like such a good guy; He has a lot of heart and I'm really pulling for Boychuk. I hope he doesn't become emotionally unstable like my next target.

McQuaid- Poor Adam. He looks terrified during warmups, while on the bench, and during the game. And terrified is how I feel when I see him at the point. He's such a tough guy sometimes...stands up for teammates and uses his strength but it seems like he's been lacking in this series.

Hnidy- Played like..4 minutes last night and got into a fight. But I respect the Hell out of him for it. His heart's in the right place-- even if he is never in the right place on the ice.

All negativity aside, for now at least, I have hope for this team. They ARE talented despite what some people may think. They ARE better than the Habs. They are in a bigger hole than they think they are. But they can do it. I know they can. But will they? We'll see. And whether they win Game 3, or end up facing elimination in Game 4...you know I'll be on the edge of my seat no matter what, hoping and praying for a miracle.