Habs don't know which way to turn

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 5:07 PM ET


 After Friday's 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, there is not much cause for the Montreal Canadiens to be optimistic.

 They were beaten in the area behind goaltender Jose Theodore and in the area in front of him. And there aren't too many other areas to worry about.

 Coach Claude Julien spoke of adjustments, but not surprisingly he declined an invitation to elaborate. He'll have no shortage of issues to address and if there is one ray of hope for Canadiens fans, it is that their heroes looked every bit as bad in the first-round opener in Boston and came back to win the series in seven games.

 In both opening games, some of the same mistakes were made. The Canadiens did not play with intensity, despite facing a revved-up Tampa team playing at home. They lost the one-on-one battles and often compounded the problem by not redoubling their efforts to compensate for the initial indiscretions. Checks were not finished. Positional play left a lot to be desired.

 Canadiens captain Saku Koivu summed it up well.

 "They played a good game," he conceded. "They played well. They played strong. But I don't think that we played at the level you have to play in the playoffs to win these games."

 So let's start with the premise that this afternoon the Canadiens won't be taking such a cavalier approach to the proceedings. Otherwise, none of the other aspects will matter.

 But after that, they also have to find a way to contain the Lightning's offence which, unlike that of most teams, loves to operate behind the opposition's net.

 The standard hockey ploy is to get the puck back to the point and have the defencemen fire shots or passes to initiate offence. But the Lightning goes behind the net and operates from there.

 Instead of standing on the point making passes, the Tampa Bay defenceman, especially Danny Boyle and Pavel Kubina, come roaring into the crease to receive the pass.

 There is not a team in the league that spends as much time behind the opponent's net as the Lightning. As a result, defenders are forced to change their focus and that is not done easily.

 The wingers, who normally would pick up the defencemen, need to have their heads on a swivel trying to watch both the development behind the net and the defencemen who might, at any time, come rushing in from the point.

 The Montreal defencemen are running around all over the place, often outnumbered in the deepest part of their own end. And the goalie is moving from side to side in his net never feeling comfortable.

 Why would he? If the play is coming from the point, it's in front of him and easily identifiable. Usually he can see it all the way.

 But if the play is behind him he has to keep his eye on the puck back there, never sure of the placement of the opponent in front.

 This creates havoc for a team like Montreal, which relies so much on positional play to start its breakouts. When you're moving around so much and facing a system that varies from the norm, there is a tendency to get out of position. And that just makes matters worse.

 If the Canadiens were a big robust team, they could give the Lightning a lot of difficulties. The disadvantage of operating behind the net is that there is not much room to manoeuvre.

 A team like the Calgary Flames or the Philadelphia Flyers would hit the Tampa Bay forwards so resolutely that they'd revert to a more standard form of attack.

 But Montreal is not a big team and that may be an insurmountable problem.

 Julien may know what he needs to do. But does he have the players to do it?


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