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.

5 Comments

George Prax's picture

I'll elaborate on this more tomorrow, but this is a good blog. I agree, but also, I don't think it's because it wasn't a factor, but because neither team let it be a factor. The Bruins could have tried to bruise the Habs early to send a message, but they were scared to take penalties and lose their flow, and in the end it might have cost them at least one of the two first games. Obviously, getting physical cost them game six and it could have cost them game 7 if the refs had cause that piece of shit Ference shouldering Halpern... still, I think that series was one incident away from getting out of hand, but it seems as if the teams just decided to play hockey, and the Canadiens ignoring the Bruins physical advances helped that. Things could have been very different though, and a team like the Flyers wouldn't have held back IMO.

WinterLions's picture

Very possible that the circus leadup caused the "peace" which enabled the smaller players to compete without limits. Certainly, the first roughing call on Ryan White was clearly refs drawing a quick line in the sand, one that was rarely if ever crossed from that point onward.

I think it's somewhere in the middle. Meaning, one or two larger players would most definitely help the team and in no way would hurt (unless they are not mobile and are liabilities as a result)... but at the same time having more smaller players than the avg NHL club does not mean a death sentence, and a well executed gameplan and discipline can allow those players to compete with a bigger team. A team who wants to play small can impose that style to a degree and isn't automatically trumped by the more physical team.

My gut feeling is that the moment size becomes the focus, there is a tendancy to overreact and throw out too much baby with the bath water. Hopefully this series helps steer the calls for size towards that middle ground vs turning into bash fests acompanied with unreasonable expectations for change.

Jason Pietroniro's picture

Lack of size was an issue. Inability to score 5 on 5 is proof of that. Size doesn't only mean hitting. We lost all the battles down low to their bigger forwards. We had nobody to compete in front of Tim Thomas. Yes we stayed in the series, no doubt, however with a bit of size we may still be in the playoffs. Size also gives some more room up the middle. By no means did we have the edge on fore-checking. Boston's 5 on 5 goals came from great neutral zone and offensive zone fore-checking. Boston got away with a lot this series but so did the Habs. Was an amazing series to watch but to say size was not a factor is a bit far fetched. We weren't thrown around because of our lack of size, but we also couldn't score 5 on 5 without Thomas giving up a bad goal. Size gives room for our smaller speedier more skilled forwards to capitalize on chances. Pacioretty's absence proved that size and grit gives the smaller guys more chance. Size was not a factor on special teams though. Our fast moving PK was dominant. Without Muller though we're going to suffer next year unless we add some youth/size to our blueline.

WinterLions's picture

Very valid analysis of what size opens up. Agreed that adding some will no doubt help the team. Perhaps I could replace "size" with "toughness" in the some of the above text... too often when "size" comes up it is associated with toughness and muscle. That part of it was not lacking and was not a factor IMO. Size to free up space- yes, that would have helped. Ironically though, I think quicker and even smaller or less-muscular defenceman would have yiedled better results too.

Jason Pietroniro's picture

For sure. Age could solve our blueline issues. Sopel/Gill/Spacek/Hamr all have some size. If they were younger, they'd of been more agile. I know what u mean by leaner defense would result in better results, but instead of going smaller or less muscular, id simply just swap for some youth. PK is big and getting bigger, but his legs don't slow him down. Doughty is a monster, Myers a monster, Chara a monster. Youth wins. not that Chara is that young, but compared to Habs blueliners he is. lol