I’m pretty sure that if you managed to catch any of the the Montreal Canadiens game against the New York Rangers, you’ll have one of two opinions.
But that’s going to depend on whether you caught the first forty minutes, or the last twenty.
It was evident from the opening puck drop that there would be plenty of intensity and breath catching moments. After all – it took more than 6 minutes to earn the first whistle for a play stoppage. But both teams showed they came to play, and the action was fast and furious end to end.
Just the kind of action that Montreal coach Jacques Martin doesn’t like to see.
There was plenty of open ice play and a definite lack of closing down the neutral zone. Both teams were playing all out, wide open hockey, and there were equal chances at both ends.
So when Brian Boyle scored for the Rangers at the 06:58 mark of the first, there were a few things to be concerned about across Habs Nation.
For the following six minutes, all fears were realized appropriately. The Canadiens closed down, and a crucial PK Subban penalty seemed to suck the life out of the team, as they struggled to find the intensity that they had opened the match with.
But the tide soon changed, and with a great penalty kill followed with a power play opportunity, the Canadiens not only mounted the pressure, but managed to get back into the game with a goal from Roman Hamerlik – thanks to a Brandon Dubinsky penalty.
But let’s not let this become a play by play game analysis. Let’s get back to the point at hand.
The Habs found strength in that power play goal and they continued to feed from it.
There was a return to forechecking, cycling down low, and preventing the Rangers to gain puck possession. There was incredible vintage tape to tape passing that resembled the Habs of old. Even CBC announcers were considering the Montreal Canadiens of the 70s.
That play (as well as discipline from taking penalties) awarded them with more power play opportunities, resulting in two more goals. There was no doubt that this team had hit a stride that the Rangers seemed unable to match. And even as the second period was seeing the sand drip through the hourglass, the Habs continued to press, gain the offensive zone, inhibit the Rangers from puck possession and shots, and maintain serious control of the match.
Even Henrik Lundqvist showed his frustration by serving up several blocker punches to Max Pacioretty at the end of the second, as he crashed the net thanks to a push.
But here’s where things came apart, and where I once again have to question the manageability of Jacques Martin.
Le Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge came out lifeless in the third. Protection at it’s best. No forecheck. No backcheck. No neutral zone presence. Nothing!
It is pretty clear that this team is built for speed and movement. The incredible puck movement in the first two frames were magical examples of that. They cycled low, won the battles in the corners, were fast to the puck. It’s no secret that with the size of this team, that they need to win through use of that speed. And through two periods there was no doubt that they played in their element.
Enter the Jacques Martin System.
As the third began and progressed, it was clear that Martin and his System had taken possession of a team that had played 40 minutes of great hockey. It became all about trying to shut down the Rangers offense, and being a defensive unit. Speed was removed. Sitting on their skate heels replaced the aggressive style that had gained them a 2 goal lead. Turnovers in their own end was the result, and Carey Price got hung out to dry.
If Lundqvist had kept New York “in” the game, then Carey Price saved the game for Montreal. The team that had asked Price to save 6 shots in each of the previous periods, made him stretch out to stop more than 3 times that many shots in the third (21 in all). They turned it over consistently in the defensive zone, and lacked the fortitude to hold the offensive zone.
It was like watching two different teams in one night.
The question then arises. How can the leadership of this great franchise see this system as positive and working? Because they have more in the Win column than in the Loss column?
Maybe Martin’s system can work with an over-sized NHL team (or a regular sized team for that matter), but clearly it’s steering the ship in the wrong direction in Montreal.
This is a team that needs the direction to play hard, fast, and strong, for a full 60 minutes. Utilizing their strengths of speed and grinding. They don’t have the size to sit back and protect a lead. They have the speed to push on; relentless, and win a game.
I, for one, am becoming tired of this old dog that is the Jacques Martin system of hockey. My finger nails can’t take it.
With two years left on the Martin contract, wouldn’t we be better to cut our losses and hand the reigns over to a man that the team seems to respect and play hard for? Kirk Muller would be twice the coach that Martin is. I believe that he understands the players in his organization far better than Martin, and also knows how to encourage them from the ground up.
Tonight was just another example of the Martin system failure. But sadly – with Carbonneau still on the pay list … It would seem like we’re stuck with what we’ve got.
Iain has followed the Montreal Canadiens for close to twenty years, even while living in the heart of Toronto. Since moving to the Plateau region of Montreal in the summer of 2009 he has been writing extensively on the Habs franchise at Bleed Blue Blanc Rouge, where content matters.
Follow Iain on Twitter @emann_222