It will be interesting if not nerve-wracking for most Habs fans as we meet our divisional rivals in Buffalo at HSBC Arena tonight. The inconsistency of the 2009-2010 Canadiens team has left most fans with a sort of identity crisis and self-doubt normally reserved for dope smoking high-school kids. On a nightly basis we ponder which team will show its face. It is a tiring cycle that has been played out over and over this season with 2 or 3 games of hope, quickly followed by 2 or 3 of pain. And yet, I cant help but to feel that as fans we are often too emotionally connected to the ebbs and flow of a NHL season. If you stop and think about things in a wider perspective, the picture is never as good or bad as it may seem. The Habs are 7-2-1 over their past 10 games. Only Washington has a better record (7-1-2) in our conference. We have been as good as Detroit over our last 10 (7-2-1), and the only team with a better record in the West is Phoenix (9-1-0). What that means is that in a 30 team league, 27 other teams have been at least as bad, if not worse than our own team over the past 10 games.
That doesn’t count for much for those of us who watched as Montreal lost two winnable games over the past week. That said, every team loses. The NHL has only seen a few teams each season over the past 100 that could be truly labeled as consistent (in a way that you would want to be). The truth about the 09/10 Canadiens is that on most nights they are average. For a roster with the kind of turnover that ours has seen (even within this season) it might even be expected. There have been flashes of promise, and yet bitter disappointments.
The good news is that our top goalscorer has returned from injury, as well as a guy who could answer all of our powerplay questions. I for one could not be more pleased to see them return. However, I have to agree with Eric Engel’s assessment of this team’s true need at this point: they have to get back to playing strongly WITHIN Martin’s system. It all starts with the forwards coming far back into the defensive zone for easier passes from our defensemen. This leads to far more successful breakouts, and typically causes turnovers that lead to odd-man rushes, and scoring chances. During the stretch of games that we won, we were able to use speed, fore-checking and back-checking to get defensemen and more importantly goalies out of position. If Montreal can return to this philosophy, they’ll be far more effective against an opponent that has employed this strategy very effectively at times this season.
Big game. Go Habs Go!!!