Let the Record Reflect: Size Didn't Matter
These thoughts were originally drafted after Game 6, but are just as relevant, if not more, after a tough loss to end the Canadiens short but dramatic playoff run . Before we lose grip on the facts and begin to let popular spin and emotion control our opinions, tweets and blogs- let’s examine one key element of this Canadiens brief run, and file it away for later in the summer when we’re likely to overlook it. A lack of size did not cost the Habs a run at the Cup.
Here we were earlier in the day, another Game 7 with a Canadiens team that seems to be calmer and more composed as the stakes are raised. The most surprising and notable aspect of this series to that point? Most will say it’s the lack of rough and crazy stuff, and the seemingly new chapter of pure-hockey in a wild storyline for these two clubs in recent months. That shouldn’t come as much surprise though given all that’s at stake in playoff hockey, as well as a few warnings and quick roughing calls directed to both benches and coaching staffs.
What is a surprise though, is the role size played, or didn't play, in the game itself. It was said by many a fan and pundit that should the Bruins lean on the smaller Habs – in an intelligent way prior to, as opposed to at or after the whislte – the latter would not be able to carry out their gameplan and successfully compete. This aspect of being "outmatched" led to most predictions of a Boston series victory, in less than 6 games. Many Canadiens fans were quick to jump on these sentiments too, letting them serve as fuel to the flames already kindled regarding the Habs’ need for size and their continued inability to address it.
While Game 7 provided us with the most physical display from the Bruins, one that was stronger than the physicality demonstrated by the Canadiens, it was not so one-sided or dominant that it decided the outcome. And certainly not in any of the previous games. Now, while cooler heads can still prevail and before we see a bunch of diagrams as to what needs to be done in the team’s front office, behind the bench, and on the bench, let the record clearly state that size - or lack thereof – was not a primary factor versus the big bad Bruins.
If anything, some of the size the Habs did have on the blueline, and the inherit slowness that comes with it (admittedly, due to both lack of agility as well as age) hurt the Canadiens and led to some key goals that prolonged the series in the Bruins favor when the Canadiens seemed to be on the verge of closing it out. Furthermore, without even consulting the oft-subjective official Hits stats from the series, it is not a stretch to say that the Habs matched if not outhit and out-forechecked the Bruins consistently throughout, something that was feared to be their Achilles’ heel. Also not a stretch to say that with the exception of some stretches in the final game, Andrei Kostitsyn was more punishing and impactful along the boards than Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, and perhaps even Zdeno Chara. Brian Gionta and David Desharnais were spotted effectively laying the body on an opponent more than Adam McQuaid or Shawn Thornton. Even clearing Carey Price's crease did not prove to be a terrible problem- the few key successful scoring opportunities from players well positioned around the crease were more a result of a lack of speed, agility and defensive focus, than lack of size or muscle.
No doubt that come draft time, free agency season, and training camp we’ll once again we’ll hear cries for GM Pierre Gauthier to trade half of his "smurfs" for larger "ogres". While some of those cries may be warranted, and adding some bigger bodies may indeed position the team better for a long regular season and grueling playoffs, this first round series against one of the “bigger” teams in the league cannot be presented as evidence.
The reason? Perhaps Mark Twain was our original Hockey Insider when he wrote the old cliché that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. Perhaps the bigger Bruins were outcoached for vast stretches of the series, neutralizing their size factor. Or perhaps some of the notably bigger Bruins lacked the experience, desire or even hockey intelligence to let that aspect of their game shine when it mattered most. (It will be interesting to watch them vs. Philadelphia in order to see how that angle potentially comes out differently.)
We’ll never know the exact reason why the Canadiens hung in to the very last shot and often looked like they deserved to move past the Bruins, but what we will know is that if the little guy gets knocked down a few times in the early rounds yet repeatedly makes it to the latter rounds nonetheless, his size shouldn’t be held against him before the fight even begins. It will be easy and natural to revert to a focus on team size come summer months when next season's lineup is all that's up for debate, so let's recall this blog when that time arrives, and have the right perspective.