Numbers add up for Canadiens

CHRIS STEVENSON QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:50 PM ET

MONTREAL -- There is always a lot of talk at this time of year about commitment, about players buying in, about playing for the guy sitting beside them in the dressing room.

In a game that often defies quantification, there are some numbers that can tell a story.

For the Montreal Canadiens, who are now home with a stunning 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal against the Boston Bruins, the number is 45.

That is 45, as in seconds, the ideal shift length in the mind of many NHL coaches (Tampa's Guy Boucher has pushed for as little as 30 to keep the pace of the Bolts up, but it would seem tough to get much done in half a minute).

There are few indications of the level of commitment to the team by individual players than shift length. Ice time is the hard currency of the NHL.

Canadiens coach Jacques Martin was saying the other day that ice time is the only true hammer a coach holds.

"They can sit there and talk to you and say all the right things," he said. "What they understand is ice time."

The truth about shift length is this: take too much and you will wind up with less.

Everybody wants to play and play a lot. But just a couple of players selfishly staying on the ice too long for a few shifts can throw a game out of whack or put their team in a vulnerable position.

How committed are the Canadiens, who host the Bruins in Game 3 Monday night, to being disciplined about shift length?

In Game 2 of their series against the Bruins, just one player's average shift length hit 44 seconds. That was centre Tomas Plekanec.

The shortest average shift was 34 seconds, turned in by veteran defenceman Roman Hamrlik.

The most ice time recorded was by rookie defenceman P.K. Subban (27:06), followed by partner Hal Gill (24:46), and they managed to keep their average shift length to 43 and 41 seconds, respectively.

That kind of discipline speaks to the commitment the Habs have to the gameplan: get on the ice, go hard and get off.

Short shifts have allowed the Habs to push the pace against the Bruins.

"It's playoff time. If you want to be successful in the playoffs, we've all got to be on that same page. We've all got to be buying into the systems from start to finish, whatever that is, however it is. Anybody veers off it, then you don't succeed," said Montreal defenceman Brent Sopel, who won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks last season. "It's crucial we keeping sticking to the game plan and executing the way we are, keep pushing the pace and working as hard as we are.

"We've got some quick forwards and when they're full of energy, we can use that to our advantage. If you extend your shifts -- and there's times that happens -- ideally, you want to be fresh and keep rolling things."

On the Bruins side, they had defenceman Tomas Kaberle averaging exactly a minute a shift for 28 shifts (no doubt a byproduct of top defender Zdeno Chara being unable to play because of dehydration and not a complete condemnation of Kaberle). They had six players who averaged 50 seconds or more per shift: Kaberle, Gregory Campbell (51 seconds); Milan Lucic (55); Shawn Thornton (52); David Krejci (53) and Rich Peverley (50).

For Canadiens captain Brian Gionta, the discipline in maintaining shift length illustrates an important point.

"That's a trust in your teammates," he said, "that he's going to do the job, too."

They're getting the job done...so far.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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