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Habs vs Caps – a critical series for Montreal

Posted By Corey Krakower On Apr 12 2010 @ 11:44 pm In Montreal Canadiens | No Comments

This year, it was more important than ever for the Montreal Canadiens to make the playoffs. That statement has nothing to do with winning, or making money or anything like that. That comment is purely based on the player evaluation that occurs with playoff hockey. You find out a lot about your organization when the stakes are raised and every shift is a do or die situation.

Over the next year, Montreal will be forced into making some very important roster decisions that will define their future for years to come. First and foremost, with 2 goalies in need of new contracts, management will eventually need to anoint one as the club’s franchise goaltender. The answer as to who it should be will be more clear after the playoffs.

Andrei Markov will be in talks with the Canadiens regarding a contract extension as soon as July 1. Markov is a great defenseman, but he has never taken his game to another level in the postseason. Is he really worth $6 million a year if he can’t be counted on to be an impact player when the games matter most?

Tomas Plekanec had a great year this year, and he couldn’t have done it at a better time, as he will be a UFA, free to sign with any team this summer. Montreal is trying to sign him at anywhere between $4.5 to $5.5 million per season. I raise the same question I did about Markov; are you really comfortable signing a guy to that much money who has always seen his production decline in the playoffs? His true value to the Habs will be determined once the playoffs conclude.

Don’t forget about the role players too. Dominic Moore’s value to Montreal will become apparent, as he will be subject to a heavy dose of Ovechkin. Can Maxim Lapierre (RFA) be a physical factor consistently? Can Sergei Kostitsyn be a top 6 forward (RFA)? Which Benoit Pouliot (RFA) is the real Benoit Pouliot; was it the power forward who scored 14 goals in his first 25 games with the team or was it the soft perimeter player who scored 1 goal in his final 14 games?

That’s a lot of players who need to prove themselves, but there is also Jacques Martin who needs to show what he’s capable of. With Guy Boucher being named the coach of the year in the AHL, the pressure is on Martin to perform in the playoffs, a place he hasn’t seen as a coach in the post-lockout era.

With so many contracts that need to be signed this summer, the best thing for this team was to make the playoffs, because that’s the best way to determine the true value of a hockey player. The difference between a good player and great player is that good players are always good; while great players are also always good but they’re great when it counts.

As for the Capitals; they are the number one team for a reason. They scored 318 goals this season, which is the highest total since the Penguins in 1996. They have 7 guys with 20+ goals (Habs have 3). They have tremendous speed up front, while the Habs are loaded with heavy feet on the backend. Jose Theodore is 20-0-3 in his last 23 games, while Halak has lost 3 in a row to the Islanders, Canes and Leafs. For those quick to point out the Canadiens beat Washington twice during the year, I remind you that Carey Price was in goal for both of those. On paper, this series is as lopsided as it gets.

For the Habs to make this a series, they’ll need to stay out of the box as much as possible to avoid putting the Caps on the PP. At even strength, Ovechkin will need to see a lot of Dominic Moore, Travis Moen and Andrei Markov. Those three need to be strictly focused on containing him as much as they can. The Habs will also need to find a way to win the goaltending matchup. Finally, they’ll need to aggressively get after the Capitals’ D, as they are not known for their strong play in their own end. Mike Green needs to be targeted by whoever he is on the ice against, and Montreal needs to force him to absorb a lot of physical abuse. The Bruins did that to Markov a few years back and took the series to 7 games when they had their fourth line of Jeremy Reich, Shawn Thornton and Petteri Nokelainen get pucks in deep and hammer him into the boards early and often.

I like to consider myself a rational Montreal Canadiens fan (yes, we do exist). Game planning aside, Montreal is over their head in this series. It will be fun to watch, that’s for sure, but in the end I see Washington taking this one in (a generous) 6 games.

Stranger things have happened, and I hope they prove me wrong!

GO HABS GO!

CK

I would like to wish a very happy birthday to my sister/amazing defenseman Jenn (born Apr-12), to my father/financial backer Sheldon (born Apr-13) and to my very good friend and frequent winger on the ice Dan (born Apr-15).

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