Sunday, April 25, 2010

Secondary scoring will be a must, if the Habs want Game 7

You can almost count on one hand the number of goal scorers from the Montreal Canadiens through the first five games of the Eastern Conference Quarter Finals.

In total, just seven separate players have found the back of the net, and all but one has come from a third or fourth line player (Dominic Moore). The Washington Capitals have seen tallies from ten different players, and all but three skaters on their roster have registered at least a point in this series.

The Canadiens top scoring lines have been fortunate that the Capitals Mike Green has been in a playoff coma. If he were playing at his Norris-nominee level, this series may have been over by now. Here's hoping the extra day off doesn't wake him up.

If he does, the Washington strategy should be simple enough, adapt to the speed advantage of Tomas Plekanec, Mike Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn, and find negate Travis Moen from the undersized second line.

This is where the third and fourth line players on the Montreal bench must step up Monday night. The likes of Benoit Pouliot, Sergei Kostitsyn, Glen Metropolit (injured or not) and co. need to bring it up to another level, much like their 1993 counterparts did.

I saw Gary Leeman at the Hockey Expo in Toronto on Sunday, and it reminded me of the little guys who were hidden in the shadows of Patrick Roy in that Stanley Cup run. Leeman had been picked up by the Canadiens from the Calgary Flames in exchange for Brian Skrudland. He played in 11 playoff games and contributed three points on a squad that saw key contributions from a group of non-household names (Kevin Haller, Paul DiPietro, Ed Ronan and Benoit Brunet).

It's a group of guys that today's Canadiens squad could take a page from. Even though Jacques Martin did shorten his bench in Game Five, and probably will again as Game Six progresses, the supplemental lines must take any advantage of their limited ice time and pot a goal or two. Without them, or barring another standout game from Jaroslav Halak, it will be over.

Beyond the forwards, it's been argued that the Canadiens defense has yet to contribute to the offense. Yes it has struggled, but they had some life in Game Five when Andrei Markov had a couple solid chances.

One has to realize though that they have been more preoccupied, most of them anyways, with their primary task, to defend. With the likes of Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and a well-overdue and hungry Alexander Semin, that's just what they'll be forced to do again Monday night.

The Capitals will certainly not want to return home to the Verizon Center on Wednesday night, so expect their offense to put on the pressure.

Markov (27:39 in Game Five) , Hall Gill (25:01) , Ryan O'Byrne (16:53) and Josh Gorges (27:45 ) have been going beyond the call on many occasions to keep their team in this series.

They will need to yet again with Jaroslav Spacek still a likely game-time decision while he battles a virus. Meanwhile, Marc-Andre Bergeron has been a total dud in the series, most notably on the power play, and Roman Hamrlik's ice-time continued on the downslide to a season low 12:10.

Hamrlik, who saw a lot of ice time early in the season, when the Habs were plagued with rearguard injuries, may be just exhausted, or even injured, who knows. Regardless his play has been a questionable liability since Game Two.

So with only four defencemen that appear able or willing to give a 100 per-cent effort, there's even more urgency for a overacheiving performance from the bottom-six forwards on Monday night.

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