The Pittsburgh Penguins switched their goaltender for game four going with Tristan Jarry as they had seen enough of Matt Murray. The Canadiens with a 2-1 series lead thanks primarily to a .937 from goaltender Carey Price and tremendous play from the big three on defence Shea Weber, Ben Chariot and Jeff Petry.
Game four was a Friday afternoon tilt in the bubble in Toronto. It was a defensive struggle, but it was exactly the kind of game the Canadiens win as they shut the Penguins down completely to win 2-0 and take the series in four games.
- One of the ways the Covid-19 break was good to the Canadiens beyond the obvious that they were allowed to play in this tournament is the condition of Carey Price. Usually when the Habs make the playoffs, Price has played 60 games or so, and he is already bruised, battered, partially injured somewhere, and mentally exhausted. This playoff has shown that you have to provide Price some rest, so he can be at his best when it counts. GM Marc Bergevin has to get a back-up goalie that he can count on to actually pull a save percentage that starts with a nine, so Price can start April at his best. Price is at the top of his game. He has been outstanding through out, though he was not relied on to do much in this one compared to the other contests. He certainly got in the heads of the Penguins who started to think a shot was not even worth taking unless it was a high grade scoring chance. They had 10 shots in the first half of the game looking for a perfect opportunity, instead of throwing it at the net and then charging there for rebounds. Then just to put a bow on it, Price got a shutout in the final game of the series. He dominated them. He was simply too much for them. He finished the series with a .947. However, don’t lose fact that it is a team game as Price only faced 22 shots when the Penguins were facing elimination. That’s a total team buy-in.
- More praise for head coach Claude Julien in this one. This defence first strategy broke down the Penguins desire a little bit more every successive period. Their best period of the series was the first one and it just progressively got worse for them. In game four, Julien’s boys turned low-event hockey into practically no-event hockey. The biggest issue during the many eight game losing skids that the Canadiens had in the regular season was their team defence was atrocious. There were games that they allowed more than ten odd man rushes. In this series, they allowed perhaps one per game. Through the first two periods, they allowed only one odd man rush. The ice just kept getting smaller for the Pens. The Habs are playing remarkably tight hockey. They came in with a game plan and they have executed it perfectly. They are not as talented as the Penguins, but you could not tell it to watch the games.
- The partnership of Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot has taken some criticism through the season for being slow. Again, this is a measure of fatigue over the course of a long season as the Canadiens had to rely on these players far too much for them to be able to succeed shift after shift, game after game. As this first round began, Weber and Chiarot were fresh and ready. The Price story of rested mentally and emotionally is happening to first pairing defenders as well. Weber and Chiarot ate up massive minutes against the hardest match-ups possible and they had no difficulty at all. Chiarot is a plus-6 through the first round. This has turned into an outstanding signing for the Habs GM. Chiarot has played the best hockey of his career this season, and did they ever miss him in Winnipeg as well.
- The second pairing was also been outstanding this series. Jeff Petry and Brett Kulak were so strong. Petry had two game winning goals while Kulak was the defender hanging back when Petry pinched in from the point often. Kulak has handled his duties beautifully looking again like the defender who was strong last year, and not the weak version of him this year. This is a high scoring Pittsburgh line-up that turned into cabbage because of the top two pairings of the Canadiens these four games.
- The Habs penalty kill was so good in game four that it was difficult to tell the Penguins were actually on a power play. One of their extra man opportunities in the second period, they didn’t get a shot off and had no zone time at all. The Habs had the puck as much as the Penguins did. Sidney Crosby left after the first minute and he looked frustrated. He hadn’t been able to implicate himself up a man at all.
- When one of Nick Suzuki or Jesperi Kotkaniemi can truly carry a game from the centre ice position, look out for how good the Habs will be. What that will do is give them one of the truly great shut down lines in the league. The components of it will change from time to time, but it will have Phillip Danault and Artturi Lehkonen on it. With Paul Byron right now, we are seeing how they can shut down the opposition with ease. Danault has been put in a top centre roll and it hurts the team because he’s just not good enough offensively to fill that role. It weakens the composition through out the line-up. However, two scoring lines with Kotkaniemi and Suzuki clicking with the third line led by Danault and Lehkonen shutting down the other team’s best would be a match-up made in heaven. It’s just a matter of waiting for the two 20 year old centres to mature enough and to improve enough to carry a game. Suzuki is already looking good, over a short period of time, with Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar. That third line would create some offence as well with Danault capable and Lehkonen capable as well. No matter how far the Canadiens go in these playoffs, the future has started to take shape with the centre shift of Suzuki to the one spot where he can take his two way game and keep developing his comfort and skill on offence. This is the way it has to be. No successful team has a centre with limited offence at the number one spot. It just does not work. This is simply the right way. Now the 20 year olds only have to keep improving to make all of this common sense actually happen. It will be nice for fans to look forward to a future that makes sense the right people to be in the right spots.
- They just beat the Penguins in four games. They shut out the Penguins in the final game. There can be no goats.
- With the injury to Jake Evans and the poor play of Jordan Weal, the Canadiens were down a forward heading into the contest. The natural selection seemed to be Ryan Poehling, but the club opted for Alex Belzile. It’s clear that Poehling has entered the doghouse because Belzile hasn’t played a game since December. Poehling took exception to being sent down to Laval last season. The best way to handle a demotion is to play so well in the lower league that you look like you don’t belong in it. Case in point, Jesperi Kotkaniemi who was a point-per-game player in Laval until his season ended with a spleen injury. Poehling was dreadful in Laval. He had no goals, and one assist in his final 10 games last season in the American Hockey League. It’s fair to wait on the evaluation of this player overall, because these high draft picks should be given until 23 years old at least before suggesting they’re a bust. A player is still developing a lot until that age and he even continues to develop after it. However, it seems as if Poehling is stagnating in his improvement in the last 15 months. Something to keep an eye on. There’s a role for him, if he can play well defensively. Considering the team’s strength down the middle, in future years, it would seem Poehling is more suited to the wing where he can concentrate on his greatest strength which is winning puck battles and using his body well along the wall. Not what he envisioned, nor the fans, but until his play improves there is no reason to think with Kotkaniemi, Nick Suzuki, Philip Danault, and Jake Evans that there is a spot for Poehling at centre.