The Habs face a critical point in their season tonight. Thats not to say that this game is more important than any others, because its not. The Canadiens will likely be in the playoffs regardless of whether they walk away with points from tonight’s contest. But there is something larger at stake for the Canadiens who have struggled to find any offensive consistency, pressure, and most importantly – goals.
In 2008/2009 Montreal backed into the playoffs as an 8th seed via a tie-breaker. Ultimately, the team was swept from the first round by the Bruins, being outscored 17-6 along the way. The problem with that team, was that not only did they struggle to manufacture offense – but their confidence was shaken thoroughly by the time the playoffs began. It was sad really – that they could play a full season, and have absolutely nothing left for when the games really mattered. The first round exit that season led to huge changes in Montreal.
Last season Montreal once again backed into the playoffs, landing the 8th seed position. Montreal was down 3-1 to the heavily favoured Capitals when they sparked an incredible stretch of play on the back of Jaroslav Halak, and timely scoring by the likes of Michael Cammalleri – which led to an appearance in the Conference Finals against Philadelphia.
In both seasons, Montreal stumbled into playoffs, and were subsequently outmatched. Of course the miracle of last year’s run allows us to forget that while the Habs were winning games against the Penguins and Capitals, they were being outshot 2 or 3 to 1 every game. I don’t point this out to diminish the victories they earned playing stoic defense, but it does illuminate why they were so easily dispatched by the Flyers in round 3.
With 6 games left in the regular season, the Canadiens have an opportunity to decide how they will enter the playoffs. Wins and losses mean little. What the Habs can control however, is how they are playing the game. The remarkable difference between this year’s squad, and last years (at least during stretches of this season) had been that Montreal was willing to play on the attack. They wouldn’t abandon Jaques Martin’s system, however it was common-place for the Habs to out-shoot their opponents by creating rushes off neutral zone turnovers, and by winning puck battles to create sustained pressure. This has been something entirely lacking during the past 3 games.
If the Canadiens are going to have any success in the playoffs this year. they critically need Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Michael Cammalleri, and Tomas Plekanec to start winning battles again. You can plug all of the Moen’s, Eller’s, Kostitsyn’s, and Pouliot’s in the world onto the top two lines, but unless those 4 players are Montreal’s best offensive players – there isn’t a hope in the playoffs. While the future of this team rests in the enticingly capable hands of players like Carey Price, PK Subban, Max Pacioretty, Lars Eller, and David Desharnais – those players (with the obvious exception of Price, and the fact that Pacioretty is hurt) are not capable of handling top-line minutes against the best that the NHL has.
If you look at just about any other playoff team’s roster you’ll see why the Habs have struggled of late. The Sabres are not an elite team in the NHL. Thomas Vanek has struggled this season, putting up 64 points to lead his club. He is followed by Brad Boyes (51), Tyler Ennis (47), Jason Pominville and Drew Stafford (45) – the latter having only played 55 games.
When you look at the Habs roster you see that Tomas Plekanec leads the team with 53 points. If you throw Wisniewski’s totals out the window because most of his offense came in Long-Island, you see 3 players (Cammalleri, Gionta and Kostitsyn) with 41 points. That is simply not going to get it done in the NHL. the struggles of Scott Gomez have been well documented – but when you get first line minutes and you’re in the same point stratosphere as PK Subban, Roman Hamrlik and Benoit Pouliot – you simply should not be cashing your paycheques. The Bruins have 10 players more productive than Gomez on their roster. Washington has 6. The Flyers have 9.
The beauty of the playoffs, as we all saw last year – is that very little of what happened before Game 1 matters, but it is critical that the Canadiens believe that they can score and win. It was game 5 of the Washington series beffore that happened for the Habs last season. If they can turn on the offensive pressure tonight – against a team that has struggled defensively, they’ll have an opportunity to get into a playoff series feeling good about what they can accomplish. We’ve seen it time and time again with this club – that one win turns into many.
Get the legs moving early and try to get a lead!
Go Habs Go!!!