Montreal Canadiens: Time to Panic?

Injuries are mounting, once-padded leads over divisional rivals have dwindled, and stats aside from save percentage and goals against hint at the first-place Montreal Canadiens being nothing more than paper tigers.

Needless to say, everything is perfect in Habs land no longer. But perfect is a tough word to live up to, and, in reality, a lot is still very much okay. So worrywarts had best hold off on pushing that big red, white, and blue panic button and read the following five reasons why the Canadiens will be A-OK this 2014-15 regular season.


It Could Be Worse for the Canadiens Injury-Wise

Sure, Alexei Emelin and Sergei Gonchar are both injured, but P.K. Subban isn’t. That may seem like a bit of a hollow victory, but admit it:

When Andrei Markov had to push him toward the bench against the Ottawa Senators because he couldn’t put any weight on his leg, you suddenly found God in the form of the television set and got on your knees right then and there.

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Well, your prayers have been answered.

Montreal Canadiens defenseman Jarred Tinordi
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Jarred Tinordi – (Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)

The Norris Memorial Trophy-winning Subban returned to the game and for good measure returned the following night against the Florida Panthers showing no apparent ill effects of the blocked Bobby Ryan shot.

One need only look back to last season’s playoff run, especially the second-round series against the Boston Bruins, to realize just how disastrous a Subban injury would be.

Meanwhile, injuries to Emelin and Gonchar? It still remains to be seen, but there’s a good chance the Habs won’t really have to find out, at least in specific relation to the latter. Head coach Michel Therrien told reporters on Thursday that Gonchar is expected back next week.

Meanwhile, Emelin could miss a week, himself. And, if he misses the up-to-six weeks that were initially reported, would it really be that big of a loss? Everyone knows Emelin can lower the boom. But his overall level of play hasn’t exactly been all that high to begin with recently.

And it’s not as if call-up Jarred Tinordi is incapable of playing defense, having drastically reduced the frequency of his giveaways relative to last season during the few games he’s gotten in with the Habs this season. The Habs even have nine shots attempts more than against this season when he’s on the ice (Corsi, or the NHL’s new SAT statistic).

Really the narrative that Tinordi is a liability on defense is arguably a huge misconception. It’s not as if Tinordi was sent down purely because of poor play. When he was assigned to the American Hockey League on November 12, it coincided with the Habs’ acquisition of Sergei Gonchar. And, now, Tinordi has gotten another chance to prove himself.

Consider the injury situation a bit of a blessing in disguise as a result. While Therrien could have been accused of not giving Tinordi a fair shake in the past (much like he didn’t Nathan Beaulieu earlier this season and last), he now practically has no choice but to play him. He might even end up playing better… not just relative to the last time around, but relative to Emelin.


Canadiens Are Still in the Playoffs

While the Habs have indeed lost three out of five games recently, they got single points in two of those losses, and, it can’t be stressed enough, are not in any danger of missing the playoffs.

Really, the lowest they can realistically fall is third in the Atlantic Division, which is where they were seeded last spring, when they went all the way to the third round. And, still, the chances of the situation getting that dire are low to say the least.


Canadiens Are Still in First Place

Montreal Canadiens goalie Dustin Tokarski and Detroit Red Wings forward Darren Helm
Montreal Canadiens goalie Dustin Tokarski and Detroit Red Wings forward Darren Helm – (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s admittedly far from a guarantee at this juncture, but the Habs are still in a very good position to win the Atlantic Division.

For example, lost in all the hoopla of the recent mini-slide is the fact that the Habs lead the division currently, one point up on the second-place Tampa Bay Lightning with two games in hand. They are five points up on the Detroit Red Wings, who have played two fewer games.

Sure, it’s less than ideal, and were it not for embarrassing losses to the likes of the Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators, Edmonton Oilers, Arizona Coyotes, and Buffalo Sabres in recent weeks, Montreal could have double-digit point leads on both of their closest rivals… and a 15-game winning streak going. How likely is that, with this particular team, seeing as the team record is 12 regular-season games in 1968?

These Habs are good and all, but, realistically speaking, they were going to lose a couple of those 15 games to begin with. They might as well have come against worse teams than ones they’re battling for playoff position.

Look at it this way: If you were the Habs, and someone told you at the beginning of the season that you’d be leading the division by one point with 24 games left to play, wouldn’t you have taken it? Good as Montreal might be, they’re not 1968 good (a team that led the league in points and won the first of two consecutive Stanley Cups). They would have taken it and run.


There is no Lesser Competition in the Playoffs

In regard to those losses to teams below them in the standings, with the Habs in first place in the Eastern Conference, it needs to be said: Almost everyone is below them in the standings, making every loss an arguable upset.

Secondly, if this so-called phenomenon of the Habs playing down to their competition is real—it isn’t as the Habs have also beaten the Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and New Jersey Devils recently (coincidentally, all with Carey Price in net, hmmm…)—the Habs don’t have anything to worry about in the playoffs.

Bad teams don’t make the playoffs, technically speaking. That also goes for the Panthers, who dealt the Habs their most recent loss on Thursday, and are now within striking distance of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, currently held by the Boston Bruins.


Panthers Are More Likely to Face Canadiens in Playoffs

Former-Boston Bruins forward Matt Fraser
Former-Boston Bruins forward Matt Fraser – (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)

When the Panthers picked up two points at Montreal’s expense on Thursday night, they pulled within one of the Bruins and they now also have one game in hand.

With Montreal, again, in the driver’s seat in first place, the Habs would theoretically face whichever team earns that second spot. History dictates a first-round matchup against the Bruins would be entertaining. History also says it could go either way, with Montreal having upset the first-place Bruins as an eighth seed once this century (2002). And, back in 2007-08, when the Habs led the Eastern Conference, they needed seven games to eliminate the eighth-seeded Bruins in the first round.

The Habs themselves would never admit it. However, playing Florida in the first round instead of Boston? It would make, in no uncertain terms, a huge difference for the better in any potential Stanley Cup run.

As the Panthers proved on Thursday night, a first-round victory would not be guaranteed. But it would be more likely. That cannot be denied. It also can’t be denied that the Canadiens did themselves a favor on Thursday by losing to Florida.

Now, chances are good the Habs didn’t throw the game. But what if they did? Maybe, just maybe, these paper tigers have more of an edge to their game than many give them credit for.

Fans will probably find out for certain sooner rather than later, with the Habs facing the Panthers three more times this season. Another few losses and clearly this is all part of a master plan. A few more wins? What’s not to like there?

Now, don’t you feel better?

12 thoughts on “Montreal Canadiens: Time to Panic?”

  1. There’s so very little to panic over (at all) that it is not even funny.

    What is funny, are all the hockey gurus who think the Islanders and TBay have it “made in the shade” because the can score goals (‘No panic there!!”), when they can’t for the life of ’em keep the puck out of their own nets (and that’s with all-world goaltenders like Bishop and Halak).

    Where’s the panic these teams should be in to find decent defense and goaltenders (good luck with that), before the low-scoring play-offs kick-in?

    Montreal? I’m panicking a whole lot less than Detroit, TBay, NYI, Anaheim, etc.

    NYR and MTL and looking like the best Eastern play-off teams, again.

    As far as injuries go: (1) the Habs are locked for the play-offs; (2) none of the injuries are season ending, it appears; (3) if you are not playing, you can’t get more seriously injured; (4) the young guys get some time, and get to prove themselves and get better for the play-offs (see “Nathan Beaulieu”); (5) injured players get some rest, in a long season — they’ll be fresh for the play-offs. Where’s the downside(s), exactly? Finish 1st, 4th — who cares. Habs won their two rad series’ last year, and lost their only home series. LAK wins the Cup from 8th place. Get to the Show and then Go. “President’s Trophy” — who’s kidding who on who wants that thing.

    So, on the Habs where some people (constantly) see “doom-and-gloom”, and “where’s that red panic button, I want to smack it”, i just see, if not clear skies, then at least puffy little clouds with great big silver linings on them.

    If and when Price gets injured, look me up then; I’ll already be stomping all over the panic button myself.

    • In regard to you (3), obviously you don’t remember Joe Sakic getting injured by a snowblower
      : ).

      I agree for the large part that there’s very little to worry about. I do think Montreal’s lack of offense will come back to bite them during the playoffs. Yes, scoring during the postseason is reduced significantly. But that means teams who have a hard time scoring goals, specifically teams whose third and fourth lines have a hard time scoring goals, will have a harder time finding the net during the playoffs. As a result, I think it’s a definite issue that Bergevin needs to solve at the trade deadline. Smith-Pelly will not help out in that regard in my opinion.

      Also, seeding can actually be a big deal, especially if Florida makes it at the expense of the Bruins. If the Panthers do, that first Eastern Conference seed will make a world of difference. As a Habs fan, I would prefer that they face Florida instead of Tampa or Detroit.

  2. Ohh, So you point out 6 of 10 games that TB lost in Shootouts, Overtime or by 1 goal with 2 of the other loses on the 2nd of back-to-back games… you want me to point out all the Lost MTL were blown out? For one, they lost 7-1 vs Lightning, and then lost 4-2….3 more matchups this season between the 2. Obviously as fans of TB, and you obviously a MTL fan. (I know you’re a fan/homer, because of your defensive answer), we won’t agree on this, but My money is on TB to finish in front of MTL, at the end of the season MTL always finds a way to slump (every year)…Also remember this year when reporters were asking Michel Therrien if he lost the Dressing room, and if they should start panicking? I expect 1 more little streak like that….

    MTL is a great team, I won’t deny, probably one of the best structured defensive teams in the NHL. Which helps Price out (..and it’s a bonus that he’s an Elite Goalie).

    MTL has been living on being an opportunistic team offensively. A lot of games they are down by 1 in the last 5-10 minutes of the game, yet they win it in SO/OT…

    Montreal is 6-2 in the Skill competition (Gary Bettman’s circus)..Tampa Bay is 2-4…Give them a 4-2 record and they are in 1st place…

    Anyways since you took time to point out the Lightning Losses, Let me point out MTL’s loses to (I’m not going to point out the games lost in OT/SO)…Tampa Bay (7-1), Edmonton (3-0), Calgary (6-2), Chicago (5-0), Pittsburgh (4-0), NYR (5-0), Buffalo (2-1), Dallas (4-1), Tampa Bay (4-2), Ottawa (4-1), Arizona (3-2), Buffalo (3-2), Ottawa (4-2)…So like you can see… Which one is more embarrassing??..

    To Finish 1st, MTL will need to win at least 3 out of 5 out west next week. and at least 2 out of 3 vs Tampa Bay…

    Also there’s a possibility TB starts slumping as well, with 2 of their top 6 Dmen out with injuries and with 2 rookies Dmen (Nesterov, Witkowski) and 2 with less than 105 games under their belts (Barberio, Sustr).

    To be honest I hope we meet again in the playoffs, expect different results this year. With a 1,2,3 of Bishop, Vasilevskiy, and Gudlevskis…Even if one G goes down (like last year), TB is still in great shape.

    I wish you, and your MTL Canadiens the best of luck (except for the games we play you) ..even though they are lucky enough as is. ;)

    • I wouldn’t really call myself a homer as I get in trouble with a lot of readers on this site when I don’t cheerlead for the Habs and instead tell it like it is, that essentially the Habs are getting by on stellar goaltending from Carey Price. I do agree that the team’s offense has been opportunistic and lucky and needs a boost at the trade deadline if the Habs have any realistic shot at getting out of the second round.

      You may not agree, but I am actually quite objective. And for my money the Red Wings have the better shot at the division title over Tampa. And, simply because of the status quo, the Habs have a better shot at winning it over either team. I honestly think the Habs need to finish first, because they will likely lose to either Tampa or Detroit in the first round if they do (I’ve said as much in one of my recent pieces).

      Thanks for reading.

  3. I will take a very good defensive team with mediocre offense but with an outstanding goaltender any day of the week. So long as Price keeps the games close MTL has a good shot at the top prize.

  4. Montreal IS DONE!!
    Understand if Price was not having one of the best Season in the History of Goaltending, the Habs would have about 57 points.

    This is not a slump. The last two games are how the Habs SHOULD HAVE BEEN PLAYING ALL YEAR.

    • You’re right… this is not a slump. Montreal is 10-3-2 in their last 10 games. I called it a mini-slide in the piece. I was being overly dramatic for effect.

      I have no idea how you can say a team is done (in all capital letters, no less), when that team is first in the Eastern Conference and has a healthy Hart Memorial Trophy candidate in the lineup. By your own admission, if Price was not having one of the best seasons in the history of goaltending, the Habs would have about 57 points. But he is.

      It’s the same thing in regard to any team in the league. Take away their best player and the team will play worse. I don’t know who you cheer for, but, take for example, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Where would they be without Sidney Crosby?

  5. For MTL to face the Panthers. they’ll have to finish 1st. Or the Panthers will need to take over Detroit for 3rd place. Latter seem likely If you ask me. TB went out west and won a bunch of games, MTL has been losing to some of the worst teams in the NHL in this stretch, I don’t think Price can keep stealing games, They’ll need to find scoring (either if it’s within the system or go get some).

    Also after watching a couple of games this past week, the worst thing the Habs can do would be trading Christian Thomas….He’s been impressive since his call up. The only reason I bring this up, is because I seem to find his name in trade rumors a lot.

    • Seeing as Montreal is currently in first place and Florida is 10 points back of the Detroit Red Wings for third place, it’s more likely that the Habs face the Panthers as the first seeds in the conference (instead of as the second seeds).

      You make it sound as if Tampa swept a West Coast road trip, when, in reality, they went 2-1. they are 2-2-1 in their last five games. The Habs are 2-1-2.

      While it’s true the Habs have lost to some bad teams, the Lightning have lost to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Philadelphia Flyers (7-3). The New Jersey Devils…. twice. The Columbus Blue Jackets. The Buffalo Sabres. The Toronto Maple Leafs. The Edmonton Oilers. The Ottawa Senators…. twice again.

      I admit Montreal should not be losing to teams like this, but it’s not like they’re losing to teams they’re battling in the standings. And, yes, I agree. They need scoring. But the fact remains there’s a lot more positive in regard to the Habs than negative right now.

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