In nine years as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens, Marc Bergevin has never offered a bolder claim than the one you see above.
But an under-the-radar statement he made to us 11 days later resonates just as, if not more, right now – as the Canadiens prepare to play the Toronto Maple Leafs in the playoffs for the first time since release. by Michael Jackson. Off the Wall and John Wayne took their last breath.
When we sat down for a virtual one-on-one interview with the GM, we asked him what he saw during training camp to reinforce his conviction in his opening camp comments.
“What I noticed the most during these (10) days is that the pace hasn’t changed,” replied Bergevin. “And what has made us a fast team in the past is still available to our team.
“We play fast. You’ve seen the scrums, the practice… the guys are fast. Even though we’ve gotten bigger and more talented, we’re still playing fast. And that’s how we intend to play.
We think about how right Bergevin was then, but also how the validity of his words seemed to slowly crack with each passing day since he said them – like that little gash in a windshield. breeze that spreads and inevitably leads to replacement employment.
And we’re thinking about the need for the Canadiens to get their speed back immediately, because if they don’t, this series against the Maple Leafs will prove to be a lot more expensive than a new glass.
They are at a talent deficit against the boys led by Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner in blue. They cannot afford to be in a speed deficit as well.
“When we talk about playing fast, it’s not just the skating part, which, depending on the lines and who is on the ice, obviously you can play that way, but also think fast,” said the coach. Canadians Dominique Ducharme Sunday. “Playing fast isn’t just about skating, it’s thinking fast.”
The Canadiens couldn’t do any of the above as they hit a 17-20-9 record to cap a 7-1-2 sprint at the gate.
Along the way, Ducharme took over from Claude Julien as head coach and attempted to introduce major changes to the system without having the benefit of being able to train often, and the Canadiens were hit in the kneecap. by injuries to most of their key players and clouded by a torturous schedule that has seen them win just seven of their last 21 games and none of their last five.
“With the schedule and the number of games we were playing without having so many days off, back-to-back games were even more difficult,” said Nick Suzuki of the 25 games the Canadiens had to play in the past 44 days. of the season. “We want to play at a fast pace, and sometimes I thought we just didn’t have the legs under us to play the way we wanted. It cost us a few games… Some games we hardly had our game.
The change in group composition also influenced this.
Eric Staal came from a Buffalo Sabers rolling backwards and has never gone out of neutral in 21 games with Montreal. At the back, the Victor Mete foot fleet was ditched in Ottawa and replaced by the tedious strides of Jon Merrill, acquired for a fifth round pick and Detroit Red Wings prospect Hayden Verbeek.
Now, with Staal and Merrill potentially starting this streak on Thursday as a pair of 20-year-old Burners in Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Cole Caufield – and possibly Alex Romanov, 21 – watch sideways, you must be wondering if the Canadiens can instantly find this crucial ingredient to their success.
It’s at the heart of how they want to play – with five skaters in close support in all three zones, with speed of transition going both ways applying relentless style to your face.
“Being tough to face is the pressure you can apply and the time and space you can take away from the other team,” said Ducharme. “So I think we’re good when we do that and that’s the kind of game we want to play. “
It’s the kind of game the Canadiens haven’t been able to play with any consistency since the start of February. From then until the end of the regular season, they fell short of expectations in all statistically relevant categories at 5v5. And that was after starting with top-tier numbers in Corsi for the percentage (fourth best at 54.36), expected goalscoring percentage (second best at 56.89), scoring chance percentage (first at 55.8) and high-risk corsi for percentage (second best with 60.51 ).
A return to basics is in order, and there is reason to believe the Canadiens can achieve it, even if a few slower players potentially dress for Game 1.
This Brendan Gallagher, who skates fast, thinks fast and plays fast, is back from a long absence with a broken thumb that will only help him. The same goes for Gallagher’s teammate Phillip Danault, who returns from a concussion that kept him out of the roster for the last three games of the season.
Carey Price coming back from a concussion that kept him from playing for a month will boost the group’s confidence. Shea Weber returning from a thumb injury that forced him to stay on the sidelines at the end of April will strengthen his depth.
Players who have battled bumps and bruises and finished at sub-optimal energy levels will have had adequate rest before the first game, which is critical to the Canadiens’ ability to play their style.
“You need the four lines and the six D’s,” Suzuki said. “We want to play this style where we attack you in waves. I think when we’re at our best all four lines do it: apply pressure, create scoring chances, play solid defensively. When we’re at our best and in good health, we’re a tough team to face.
And the value of five practices before the first game, when the Canadiens haven’t been able to get more than five in the previous six weeks, should allow them to play freely and freely.
“We’re trying to practice things and have more options so that when we’re out there for that first game, we’re mentally prepared and we’re going to have these games in the back of our head,” said Josh Anderson. “We won’t even have to think twice. I think just doing more reps instead of having just one practice and then playing in a game is going to really help our team be successful. We were lucky to have some free time here where we can really focus on the details and figure out what we need to do to play.
Everything has to be second nature when the puck falls if the Canadiens are to be able to play the way Bergevin suggested. Because they are up against a Maple Leafs team that has proven to be ‘here to win’, a team that ‘does business’ and is able to play ‘the way you want’, it won’t go well. if they can ”. t follow.