The Montreal Canadiens started the 2015 NHL Playoffs with great promise. Having finished first in the Atlantic division during the 2014-15 season, most pundits expected the Canadiens to go far in these playoffs. They started Round 1 of the playoffs against the Ottawa Senators jumping to a 3-0 series lead in the best of 7 series, finally winning it in 6 games. Now halfway into the 2nd Round, many have lost hope. With the Canadiens trailing the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-0 in games in the best of seven Divisional Final, few expect the Canadiens to even win another game. And Betfair.com revised their predictions too as Tampa Bay are favorites to win the series, despite the fact Montreal started with home ice advantage.
Going into the series, both clubs finished with 50 wins. However Habs head coach Michel Therrien kept telling everyone that his team were the underdogs. Tampa finished the season with the most goals for with 262 goals whereas Montreal finished with 221. Defensively Montreal had the edge with 189 goals against compared to Tampa’s 211.
Time and time again, teams with the most defensive record don’t do particularly well by the time the playoffs come around. Habs GM Marc Bergevin will keep preaching that “you win with defence”. But the truth of the matter is, whenever the playoffs roll around, everyone buckles down and plays defence. It’s easier to teach players how to play defensive systems than it is to teach how to score. To score in the NHL you need natural talented abilities. Abilities that Tampa are blessed with in Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, and Nikita Kucherov. Montreal’s only pure goal scorer is Max Pacioretty.
Michel Therrien’s strategy was to copy what the 2014 Stanley Cup winner Los Angeles Kings did during the 2013-2014 season where they lead the league in goals against during the regular season playing a committed game of defence. And lead by forwards Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, the league’s best defenseman in Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick in goal, helped propel the Kings to win their second Stanley Cup in three seasons.
And who could blame Bergevin’s and Therrien’s strategy for these playoffs. Along with their sniper Pacioretty, the Canadiens soon to be crowned 2014-15 Vezina Trophy Winner in Carey Price, who is also a finalist for league MVP. They have Norris Trophy finalist P.K. Subban on the back end. Unfortunately for the Canadiens during the 2015 Playoffs, the Canadiens were not blessed with the same commitment to defence. And they lack natural ability to finish their scoring chances as their offense has sputtered, and their 2015 Playoffs Power Play is a woeful 3.8%, a problem they have struggled with for over a season now.
There is not much left in the tank it seems for the Canadiens to go further than they did last year in the playoffs. During the off season Bergevin and Therrien need to re-think their strategy because obviously with their current roster, they can’t get to the finish line.