The Montreal Canadiens had went a perfect 3-0-0 last week, which took them as high as the top spot in the Northeast division for a brief moment before the Bruins reclaimed the lead. The Habs bear almost no resemblance to the team that finished last in the East a year ago, but their toughest test is yet to come.
In the midst of a convincing win over the underperforming Philadelphia Flyers, the Habs saw four players forced off the ice. Injuries have plagued this team for the past two seasons, so there’s no doubt that plenty of fans had thoughts of “not this again” running through their minds late Saturday night.
With Carey Price already forced out of Saturday’s game with the flu, the Habs lost four skaters in the third period of their contest against the Flyers. Max Pacioretty suffered a deep cut to the ribs but showed up for practice on Sunday, Alexei Emelin and Colby Armstrong also practiced Sunday after missing the end of Saturday’s game.
That left rookie Brendan Gallagher as the only Hab who wasn’t lucky enough to bounce back quickly from his injury. The standout rookie suffered a concussion when he was hit from behind into the boards by Luke Schenn. The question now is not whether Gallagher will miss action, it’s how much time will Gallagher be forced to miss?
Toughest Test Still to Come for Habs
The Canadiens are 9-4-1 so far this year. They quietly moved into first place in the Northeast division after Saturday’s win before giving top spot back to the Bruins Sunday night. But the Habs have benefited from a pretty friendly schedule to start the season, they’ve played 9 of their first 14 games at home and despite this year’s “condensed schedule” they’ve only had two pairs of back-to-back games to deal with so far.
This week, the Canadiens will play 4 games in six nights, although 3 of them will be in the friendly confines of the Bell Centre where the Habs have been able to dominate so far this season. They’ll host the Hurricanes, Islanders and Rangers in the coming days, they’ll also face the Rangers in New York on Tuesday.
This probably isn’t the time the Habs would want to deal with a string of injuries, but teams don’t get to choose the types of things. While Brendan Gallagher has been an integral part of the Habs’ early success the team probably counts itself lucky that the fallout from Saturday’s game wasn’t worse.
While the injury bug might have missed the team, the flu bug didn’t. Carey Price missed Saturday’s game and PK Subban could miss action in the week ahead. Price will sit Monday as well, a smart move on coach Michel Therrien’s part. Price likely would not have started both Monday and Tuesday’s game regardless, so giving the team’s most important player an extra day of rest makes perfect sense.
Habs fans will hate to see PK out of action, if it does come down to it the team has already proven this season that they could win without him. Tomas Kaberle and Yannick Weber have seen limited action this season, but both are serviceable defensemen who could probably crack the roster on a majority of NHL teams.
Canadiens Have Their Sights Set on the Top
The Canadiens are not only challenging for the top spot in the Northeast division, first place in the Eastern conference is also within their reach. The Habs are three points back of the conference leading Pittsburgh Penguins and hold a pair of games in hand. Les Boys have already made an impressive turnaround since they finished last in the East a year ago. This week will be an important measuring stick for the team, they’ll be facing difficult, but not unbeatable competition in a tight timeframe.
The week ahead also marks the Habs’ last extended stay at home, after Saturday they’ll play 6 of the 7 and 11 of the next 15 games on the road, making this week all the more crucial.
Rob has been blogging about the Habs since 2011 at MontrealHockeyTalk.com and can usually be heard before every Canadiens games on the MHT Pregame Show.