It may not seem like a blessing, but the Montreal Canadiens have been granted a rare gift following two straight losses. They’ve been given a second chance at the season and are essentially back to where it all began.
Two Straight Canadiens Losses
After rattling off five straight wins against less-than-stellar competition (with exception to the Columbus Blue Jackets, who still outplayed them), the Habs then lost to two actually decent teams in the St. Louis Blues and Calgary Flames. It should be noted that the latter had put their unproven back-up in nets after they had played the night before.
Unless you go with the sorry excuse that they only couldn’t beat David Rittich, who had an .844 save percentage entering the game, because the book is not yet out on him, it very much looks like the Habs aren’t a very good team. And that may be true. Looking on the bright side is increasingly hard to do.
If Brendan Gallagher is leading your team in scoring, however rejuvenated Gallagher may be, it’s not a good sign. If superstar goalie Carey Price is giving up three goals a game (and he is), immediately below Jaroslav Halak in that one category, it’s almost comical. Unfortunately, seven years ago this is not. And to first get to the point where a performance like Halak’s during the 2010 playoffs can make a difference, the Habs first need to get there.
We’re essentially back in the good, old days, when the Habs needed goaltending to actually be good… just minus the good goaltending.
Habs Hit Reset
Nevertheless, the two losses brought them back to .500 on the season (13-13-4). Currently tied for the last Atlantic Division playoff spot (with the Boston Bruins holding the tiebreaker with four games in hand), it’s almost as if the season has not yet even started, which is probably a notion most Habs fans can get behind.
It’s fitting they’re hitting the reset button with the Edmonton Oilers in town on Saturday night. The Oilers themselves, at 11-15-2, have suffered through a disastrous start to the season that has all but dashed their playoff hopes.
However, whereas whatever is ailing the Oilers can probably be attributed to growing pains of a young team, the Habs need to absolutely win now. That’s before aging stars like Shea Weber and Carey Price start to deteriorate and players like Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk hit free agency. That’s why it’s so critical that the Habs make the most of the remaining 52 games on the schedule.
Making the Most of the Rest of 2017-18
Thankfully, they’re entering a just-as-critical stretch of the season, which culminates in three games against the Bruins over seven days in mid-January and includes another against the division-rival, free-falling Ottawa Senators next week.
Between then and the third game against the Bruins, the Habs will play 17 games. The Bruins will play 20. Those extra three games and the three against each other will effectively cancel out any edge the Bruins have over the Habs right now… that is, if the Canadiens are able to keep winning.
The Bruins are the only Atlantic Division team standing between them and that last playoff spot, so the rules are simple: Win and you’re in.
Unfortunately for the Habs, only 6 of those 17 games are against opponents not currently in a playoff spot… which means the Habs are going to have to up their game significantly. If they can’t, they probably don’t deserve to make the playoffs to begin with, anyway. Here’s to new beginnings. And hopefully happy endings.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.