Outscored 10-3 in the first 120 minutes of the series by the New York Rangers, it could be said that the Canadiens have fallen on hard times. Then again, there are also several signs pointing to a Habs revival in the Big Apple.
“I like the engagement level of our team in Game 2,” offered head coach Michel Therrien during a conference call with the media on Tuesday. “The first game was emotionally and physically tough for us, but we regrouped really well. On Monday, we played with energy and we pushed the pace. I’m anxious to see guys tomorrow and I feel optimistic for the rest of the series because of the way we competed.”
Though the coach’s words came the morning after a tough 3-1 home loss, there is no doubt his team executed the game plan Therrien and his staff outlined before Game 2. On Monday, the Habs had an impressive 80 shot attempts, including 41 on net. Two-thirds of those chances were generated by the Max Pacioretty-David Desharnais-Brendan Gallagher and Rene Bourque-Lars Eller-Brian Gionta lines, which both gained the New York blueline with impunity throughout the game with raw speed and clever passing plays.
“Max Pacioretty is a player who has grown tremendously in the past seasons. Now, we don’t hesitate to use him on the penalty kill, at the end of a game to protect a lead, or to generate offense in any situation. He’s become a young leader on this team and he’s getting better every year,” praised Therrien, who has an appreciation for what the American winger brings to the table besides his lighting-quick release.
Now free from the stifling defensive coverage of Zdeno Chara and his Bruins brethren, Pacioretty is back shooting and scoring at his regular season pace, which could only be bad news for the Rangers heading into Game 3.
Same goes for Bourque. After starting the playoffs red-hot with four goals in as many games against Tampa Bay and putting pucks on net at a record-setting pace, the stocky winger went pointless in all seven games against the Boston Bruins. He snapped the drought with the Habs’ first goal of the Conference finals, and has eight shots in two games so far against the Blueshirts to regain the confidence of his coach.
“In the first minutes of the game, Rene Bourque had three scoring chances back-to-back, and [Henrik] Lundqvist made the saves,” acknowledged Therrien, who was impressed enough with Bourque’s hustle to use the third-line winger as an extra attacker with the net empty late in Game 2.
So, with all the things going right offensively for the Habs, why is the team in a 0-2 hole heading into Manhattan? Against Tampa Bay, the team scored 16 goals on 138 shots (11.6% shooting percentage). Against Boston, it went 19-in-196 (9.7%). So far against New York, the Canadiens are only cashing in on 4.7% of their shots on net. Like the stock market, shooting percentages tend to fluctuate unpredictably in the short run. But in the long run, dominating the shot count is as good as money in the bank. That’s good news for the Canadiens if they can keep Lundqvist and his defensemen feeling the heat at Madison Square Garden.
“I want to give credit to the Rangers for what they did well. The Rangers’ defense did a good job of boxing players out, blocking shots and preventing second chances,” added coach Therrien. “We just need to keep working the way we did yesterday. Things can change very fast if we keep creating chances. The most important thing is that players follow the game plan and stay alert. If we keep doing that, things will turn around.”
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
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