MONTREAL – The kind of team toughness the Canadiens are looking for goes well beyond a focus on physical play.
With the arrival of Brad Staubitz, the Canadiens clearly added a new level of physicality to the their lineup. Thursday night against the Wild, they’ll be aiming to bring that concept of team toughness full-circle, doing everything that doesn’t always come easy; from going into the hard areas and looking for greasy goals to sacrificing for the good of the group.
“We ended up with 24 shots in our last game. For me, we had room for 10 maybe 15 ‘nothing’ shots that we should have taken but we didn’t,” expressed Randy Cunneyworth of his team’s need to sacrifice more “perfect scoring opportunities” for gittier goals.
“By ‘nothing’ shots, I mean the ones from the tough angles. You take them knowing the goalie is going to save them, but he may kick out a rebound – and that’s the one you want. That’s what we want to see a little more frequently,” added Cunneyworth just before taking part in his 33rd outing an NHL head coach. “Like I said, we had 24 shots – we should have had at least 34. A few of those might have resulted in a goal, maybe even two.”
Following a practice that ended with Cunneyworth and Lars Eller having a chat near center ice, the young Dane shared that the message from his head coach had been a simple one.
“90, 95 percent isn’t enough to win, and the thing is, you see it a lot of times in games because we’re not getting blown out – we’re losing by only a goal, or they’re adding the empty netter. You have to give your best effort to win and that’s what we’re working on,” explained Eller of the fact that a little bit of extra push can often go a long way. In 2011-12, the Canadiens have already played 28 games that have been decided by a single goal.
“He expects to us be better as a team, as lines, and as individuals. I don’t think it was a bad effort in Tampa, but everybody can give that extra notch,” admitted Eller. “I remember that when you’re a winning team – like a lot of times last year – you maybe don’t always have to play at your best to win. When you’re down here, the way we are now, you have to be at your best to win games.”
Thanks to the current parity around the league, the idea of simplification and gritty play equaling success clearly isn’t specific to the Habs. As P.K. Subban pointed out: these days, that’s just what it takes to win.
“The way the NHL is right now, it’s crazy how few spectacular goals are being scored. Other than Malkin, there aren’t too many guys getting high-voltage goals right now. Everyone seems to be scoring in more-or-less the same way,” explained the Habs’ most used skater this season, averaging 23:49 of ice time per game. “When you look at the highlights after a game, you’re seeing a lot of dirty goals going in. You have to be willing to go into the spots where you know you’re going to get hit. You have to be willing to take those low shots off shin pads or shoulders to try and get a good rebound. Those are chances you only get from working hard and being in the right places.”
According to Cunneyworth, that’s precisely the effort he’ll be expecting his team to produce Thursday night in front of the home crowd.
“You have to put everything to have into every game,” stressed the head coach. “Putting your body in harm's way, sacrificing yourself for your teammates, doing the right things – that’s what makes for exciting hockey.”
Justin Fragapane is a writer for canadiens.com.
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