Canadiens' game plan halts Pens in Game 2
Call it the rope-a-dope or Capital punishment.
Just don't call it a fluke.
The Penguins got a taste of the defensive strategy that is suddenly the talk of the NHL playoffs, dominating the battle for puck possession but not the war for quality scoring opportunities against the Montreal Canadiens, who evened a second-round series in a 3-1 victory Sunday by executing the plan that fueled their stunning upset of Washington.
Much like the top-seeded Capitals in that series, the Penguins seemingly possessed the puck for immeasurable stretches yesterday in Game 2. But, they were unable to generate a large number of top-tier scoring opportunities against goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who stopped 38 of 39 shots.
"There's a lot of people in this room who care very much and are willing to play whatever way we figure is the best way we're going to find a way to win," said Montreal winger Mike Cammalleri, who scored twice in Game 2 — his seventh and eighth playoff goals.
The Canadiens claim they didn't sense any frustration from Penguins players, even though Sidney Crosby broke a stick across the Montreal net and Evgeni Malkin looked more irritated as the game progressed.
Crosby and Malkin, after scoring nine goals in six games against Ottawa, have been silenced to a combined three assists through two games against the Canadiens. They were held without a point in Game 2.
"Those are two of the best players in the world," Montreal center Scott Gomez said. "(The Penguins) won Game 7 in Detroit to win the Stanley Cup. They aren't going to get frustrated yet."
Gomez, for one, isn't interested in finding out if the Canadiens' current strategy will eventually frustrate the Penguins' dynamic duo. The bait-and-block strategy with which Montreal appears so comfortable doesn't particularly appeal to the former Cup winner with New Jersey.
"The puck was in our zone too much tonight, and that's dangerous against the Penguins," he said. "Going back to Montreal, I definitely think we need to start producing more offense."
Montreal's plan of attack against the Penguins appeared fairly simple. After taking a 2-1 lead in the second period thanks to the first of two Cammalleri goals, the Canadiens seldom pushed for more offense. Instead, they committed to having five players back defensively at all times.
The Penguins have struggled against the "trap" this season, and Game 2 was no exception after Montreal went ahead. They appeared puzzled in the final two periods, frequently turning the puck over at the Montreal blue line and failing to win battles for the puck in front of Halak.
A Crosby turnover late in the third led to Cammalleri's second goal.
Although the Penguins did outshoot Montreal, 30-5, at one point during a stretch in the second and third periods, most of those opportunities were fruitless and from the perimeter. Much like against the Capitals, Halak had little trouble with those shots.
"I think the whole team was a lot better tonight then in Game 1, including me," Halak said. "Were they frustrated• I don't know about that. I just think we played better."
The Penguins certainly looked frustrated, but one of their veterans suggested that slow and steady will ultimately win the race.
Defenseman Sergei Gonchar's thoughts sounded similar to words uttered from Washington's locker room during the first round. Of course, in the postseason, the Penguins have a considerably more impressive track record than the Capitals, so time will tell.
"We just have to keep doing what we're doing," Gonchar said. "Nobody told us we were going to win four straight. We just need more shots and more traffic in front of the net."