The Montréal Canadiens have been one of the NHL’s most inconsistent teams in 2021. Seemingly, every time they come out with an impressive victory over a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs and the team and those around it begin to believe that the Habs can start stringing together real momentum, they follow it up with a humiliating loss or by letting a game get away from them.
Although they still have a very realistic chance of making the playoffs, it’s difficult to say whether they can be confident in their ability to control their playoff destiny.
The Canadiens have had immense trouble stringing together consecutive victories, which under ordinary circumstances wouldn’t necessarily be as big a problem as it is this season. The special circumstances of this COVID-19 shortened season means that each game has much more meaning. Each game is against a divisional opponent, meaning that any ground lost or inability to maintain consistency is a golden opportunity for another team to swipe the last playoff spot from the Habs.
In fact, it’s the fact that they haven’t put together enough win streaks in comparison to other teams in the North division that they’ll have trouble holding their own playoff fate in their hands. Each of the teams ahead of them in the standings has multiple three-game winning streaks; the Toronto Maple Leafs have two three-game win streaks and two four-game winning streaks, and the Winnipeg Jets have one four-game streak and two three-game streaks. Even teams that are widely believed to be out of the race have managed to string together multiple win streaks – the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames both have at least one three-game streak and the Canucks have two four-game streaks as well.
Montréal, on the other hand, has exactly one three-game winning streak this season, the same number as the Ottawa Senators, the league’s 28th-place team and a team many people had predicted would finish near the bottom of the league from the start.
Games in Hand
The team that should scare Montréal the most in their push for the playoffs is the Flames. Only four points behind the Habs in the North Division standings, the Canadiens’ next three contests are against the Flames, a team that they have failed to perform consistently against. They’ve already lost the first of the three contests and there’s a very real possibility that Montréal could lose the remaining two games against the Flames, which would make the one game in hand Montréal has on the Flames their only saving grace.
Not only the Flames, but the Vancouver Canucks should also give the Habs some uncertainty. The Canucks, due to their COVID pause of the last few weeks, now have five games in hand on the Canadiens, and are set to play the Ottawa Senators in three straight games. Even though the Canucks were depleted by the COVID outbreak which saw 21 players and four staff members test positive, Vancouver remains in a prime position to start a hot streak (from “21 Vancouver Canucks Players, 4 Staff Have Tested Positive for COVID-19” Katya Slepian, Aldergrove Star, 07/04/2021).
Given how the Canadiens have performed over the course of the season, it’s not unreasonable to think that Vancouver could surpass them. Although currently 10 points behind the Canadiens, the Canucks could potentially serve the Habs a devastating blow should they turn in excellent performances this week.
Although the Canadiens remain in a good place and are largely a lock to make the playoffs this season (four points with two weeks left should be enough for this Habs team – they’ll have a few more wins left) the possibility remains that they fall out of a playoff spot near the very end of the season if things go a certain, albeit very specific way. They’re still in the driver’s seat, but they don’t necessarily have both hands on the wheel.