Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Habs Need Grit

One thing the Montreal Canadiens have is heart. You can pick apart specific players, but as a whole, this team is "the little engine that could" - key word being "little".

It has been debated for years that the Habs needed to break its habit of acquiring speed & skill over size & grit. While the Canadiens fast play, fancy stickhandling & arguably one of the best goaltenders in the NHL may work against teams like the Capitals and the Penguins, it goes without saying that it simply does not work against teams like the Flyers.

Wednesday night's game versus the Bruins made it clear just how lacking size is on the roster. My issue with this debate is how size tends to get lumped in with the role of enforcer (ie: Habs fans expecting Hal Gill to "step up"). The bigger the player, the more he is expected to protect his team mates. While I'm not implying that this task should be left to players of Gionta's stature, I still believe that this should not rely solely on the shoulder's of the league's giants. However, when players like Lucic are able to cross-check Price without any fear of retaliation, there's a problem.

As much as management and the players may say that it "isn't their style of play", until hitting and fighting are eliminated from hockey altogether, a need for size & enforcers will exist. Quite frankly, if I wanted to watch a hockey game without hitting & fighting, I'd watch a high school bantam game. Despite the heated debates that sprung up in the aftermath of Wednesday's game, it was one of the most entertaining games of the season from the standpoint of a fan. I like my fighting, leave it where it is.

At the moment, the Habs consist of offensive-minded midgets, yappers & teddy bears, trying to play for a defensive-minded coach, all the while missing 2 of their best defensemen (Markov & Gorges). In order to play the defensive style of game that Martin seems intent on doing, you need size, and not the washed up, out of shape veteran kind (see Laraque). This, along with an overpaid, under-producing player (Gomez) and a lack of enthusiasm (Kostitsyn), equals a major disconnect.

This team relied heavily on goal-tending in the post-season last year, and the same can be said for the regular season this year. Unfortunately, despite Price's size, he cannot be an enforcer for his team (I would, however, like to point out the class, maturity & intelligence that he displayed in not pummelling Thomas when he easily could have). If the Habs don't acquire an enforcer (or have someone on the team step up to the challenge), and we meet the Flyers in the playoffs, that will be the end of our stint for the season. I am, of course, hoping not to meet them in the first round, and that someone else will knock them out before the conference semi-finals. A girl can dream.

All that being said, I'd like to re-iterate Wednesday's game as one of the most intense games of the season. I liked the way the players attempted to step up (see Pyatt), and they have the shiners & stitches to prove it. Do I think the city should be getting their panties in a bunch over it? No. Keep in mind that we are currently 3-1 against the Bruins this season, with another 3 matchups to go. The stakes have been raised, and if Gauthier makes the right moves before the trade deadline, and Martin starts limiting his unwavering confidence and ice time to the over-paid and under-producing players, this team could have what it takes to be more than the victim of a first round sweep in the post-season. That is, as long as we don't meet the Flyers...

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