Thursday April 16th, 2015

My thoughts in the aftermath of Montreal's 4–3 win over Ottawa in Game 1 of their first-round series:

1. The officials made the right call on P.K. Subban.

By now you’ve probably seen the slash that earned Montreal’s P.K. Subban a five-minute major and early trip to the showers. And no doubt you’ve already decided that it was a) a vicious two-hander or b) a brilliantly orchestrated dive by Ottawa's Mark Stone.

Canadiens' P.K. Subban ejected for slash in Game 1 vs. Senators

I'm probably not going to change anyone’s mind with my take, but here it is anyway: It absolutely was the right call. And there’s really no room for debate.

Even if you wearing La Saint Flannelle while watching the game, you have to cop to the basic facts. Subban closed his grip, raised his stick above his shoulders and thwacked Stone in an unprotected area above his glove. That’s a penalty, every day of the week. But was it a major?

According to the rule book, absolutely. And the refs had no choice but to call it that way. Rule 61.3 dictates that a major for slashing “must be called when injury occurs,” and judging by Stone’s reaction to the slash and his immediate departure from the ice, they had every reason to believe the Sens star had been hurt.

Rule 61.5 then makes clear that, “whenever a major penalty is assessed for slashing, a game misconduct penalty must also be imposed.” Again, not a lot of room for interpretation there.

Sure, Stone’s subsequent return to action fueled the dive debate, but it shouldn’t have. These are the playoffs. Guys play hurt all the time. And judging by his limited effectiveness (and a second trip to Ottawa’s room for attention), there was nothing fake about his injury.

You can argue the merits of a rule that hinges on the damage done to the victim (and the ability of the officials to recognize it), but you can’t ignore the existence of it. Controversial or not, the refs got this one right.

The question now: Will Subban face supplemental discipline? I say no, but in the event that an injury report comes out suggesting Stone could miss action I can see it happening.

2. The Canadiens' under-the-radar deadline acquisitions are already paying off.

On a night when high-profile trade deadline acquisitions Antoine Vermette, Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli all watched their team’s playoff openers from the press box, it was hard not to notice how well four lower-profile deals paid off for the Canadiens.

Watch every goal from Wednesday's Stanley Cup Playoff games

GM Marc Bergevin didn’t win much praise at the time of the trades that netted Devante Smith-Pelly from the Ducks, Jeff Petry from the Oilers, and Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn from the Sabres, but they weren't big gambles, either. In exchange for a second-round pick, two fifth-round selections (one of them conditional) a seventh-rounder and a player acquired in free agency, he bolstered the team's size, speed and defensive play up front.

All four made their presence felt in the opener. Flynn delivered a goal and two assists for his first career three-point night. Mitchell chipped in a goal and some strong defensive work. It was hard not to notice that he took the defensive zone draw with the Canadiens clinging to a one-goal lead in the dying seconds. Petry stepped up when Subban left the game, taking on his minutes at even strength and on the power play. And Smith-Pelly may have played his finest game as a Canadien, delivering a Western Conference-style six hits while filling in for Max Pacioretty on the top line.

None of those trades will be judged on the basis of one night, but there’s no denying they combined to deliver this win for the Habs. Not a bad start. 

3. Do the Canadiens have the book on Andrew Hammond?

Canadiens vs. Senators: Series schedule, live stream, TV coverage

They got to the Hamburglar four times in the second period. That’s a significant dent in his armor considering it was just the third time this season that he’d allowed more than two goals in a game.  What was interesting was how often they tested his footwork. On Mitchell’s goal Hammond was beaten on a far-side wraparound after misreading the attack and overextending to his right. On the winner he was slow dropping to his knees as he tried to take away the bottom of the net from Flynn who drove in from the right corner. Hammond uses the newly popular Reverse VH style that is supposed to help seal the post but, when improperly executed, it leaves the goalie vulnerable to plays executed out of the corner or from behind the net.

The goals weren’t the only instances of Montreal attacking Hammond this way, either. Alex Galchenyuk almost added an insurance goal on a similar attempt early in the third period.  Definitely something to keep an eye on as the series progresses.

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