- The Recap: Game 5 – ECQF: Rangers vs. Habs
- The Recency Bias: Round 1 – Game 5
- What Just Happened? Rangers top Habs 3-2 in OT
- The Forum: The First Round… So Far
- Dwight King Not Proving His Worth
- What Just Happened? Rangers Even the Series
- The Recap: Game 4 – ECQF – Habs vs Rangers
- The Recency Bias: Round 1 – Game 4
- Montreal’s trade deadline acquisitions are paying off
- What Just Happened? Habs quiet Rangers, take 2-1 lead
Looking At The Big Picture
- Updated: March 31, 2015
There’s a certain pride associated with being a member of the Montreal Canadiens fan fraternity. This pride has been significantly tested following five consecutive losses to the Tampa Bay Lightning. After all, nobody wants to carry a feeling of helplessness into the postseason against a divisional opponent who just happens to stand as a barrier between a good and potentially great season. All signs point to Tampa Bay as the team most likely to challenge for the Eastern Conference crown and the club most likely to upset the New York Rangers. So, as we pause to repair the holes in the wall, broken televisions and hurt feelings, byproducts of another loss last night, let’s consider the status of Montreal Canadiens as we prepare for the postseason.
Firstly, as we canvas the conference for potential first round opponents, let’s refine the possibilities and focus on the probabilities. Montreal is most likely to play one of Detroit, Washington, Boston or Ottawa in the first round. The Canadiens have built a combined record of 9-0 versus the Caps, Wings and Bruins, while they have stumbled against the Sens going 1-3. Any of these opponents are likely to provide a significant challenge, however none are going to enter the series as the favorite. Fact is, the Habs can beat any of these teams, provided they continue to stay healthy. Setting this aside, let’s revisit a potential series with the Lightning.
Tampa Bay has assembled a very strong core, supported by depth and character throughout the lineup. They are a very balanced team, who are bigger, faster and more skilled than the Canadiens. The Lightning have overcome key injuries this season and continue to win despite not receiving top calibre goaltending. Of course, it’s worth noting that Ben Bishop has an exceptional career record vs the Habs and does not appear ready to falter anytime soon. All this said, Tampa Bay has played their best hockey against the Habs. They appear motivated and have made significantly fewer fundamental errors during the five match-ups. It’s as though they have played at 95 to 100 percent of capacity, while on the other hand we have yet to see the Canadiens play a full 60 minutes of hockey. In fact, using the same scale, I’d go so far as to suggest that the Canadiens have not reached anywhere near 70% of their potential in any of the five games. What does this mean going forward… In my humble opinion, it means the Habs have a chance.
Look, I am not so naive as to believe that the Habs are poised to hoist the Cup this season, however their odds have improved, exponentially. Prior to the season starting, many, myself included believed this was a year of transition. During the month of November, the Habs dressed 7 defencemen for a game with an average age of 33 years. Fast forward to the game last night and that average had dropped to 27. So much as I dislike a system that does not appear to generate scoring chances, the truth is the personnel is not yet the quality of a New York or TB. That said, it’s not significantly far behind either. The game last night was not decided because of Flynn or Mitchell. The game last night turned on 3 critical defensive lapses. Once again, so much as each of us wanted to beat TB, it appears to have meant more to the fans than the players. What will be interesting is to see how Tampa might react to adversity should the Canadiens grab a lead in any of the games. Or, how would the landscape change if the Habs could get through a period or two or scoreless hockey? Do the Bolts have the patience and resolve to wait for a scoring chance, or would they press and open themselves up for a counter attack if results were not immediately achieved? There are so many story lines that have yet to be unearthed. It is for this reason that I reserve a final assessment on the season. After all, it’s not the regular season that determines the Stanley Cup champion.
When the puck dropped to open the 2014-15 season, Montreal was one of 30 teams who began with a chance to win the Stanley Cup. Now, having qualified for the postseason that number has dropped to 1 in 16. So much as fans are down on the team today, there are a number of players who provide hope and optimism. Firstly, the team has a great chance to enter the playoffs healthy. Carey Price is having a year for the history books and appears likely to be recognized as the Hart, Lindsay and Vezina trophy winner. Subban is a serious Norris trophy contender, while Max threatens to break the 40 goal barrier. The Habs have four players with 20 goals, while Lars Eller appears to have found another gear since the passing of the trade deadline. Although he’s been on for a few key defensive breakdowns the last four games, Markov has had an exceptional year as has the ever energized Gallagher. All this is to say that the team isn’t just Carey Price, although it sure makes for great headlines and bar room conversation. It’s easy to reach the simplest of solutions. I can accept this from outsiders, but as a Habs fan, it’s incredibly disingenuous to share this narrative, as it masks some other great performances.
Having not yet completed a third year under Marc Bergevin’s guidance I was not expecting a Cup run this spring. Based on overwhelming feedback, I have to assume I’m in the minority. It would appear that a significant number of fans believe the organization is significantly behind schedule. Perhaps they are right. Maybe this should have been our year and anything short of a Cup will be a disappointment? Sure, I would like to see the pieces rearranged and our lineup tweaked, but is it reasonable to expect a Cup with Parenteau/Desharnais on our top line? In my humble opinion, the answer is no. Even if we rearranged the Centres (and I can’t overstate how much I want this to happen) are we a legit contender? I believe we are closer, but still a player or two away up front, especially in the top six. I do believe that Bergevin works to address this deficiency in the offseason, however that does nothing to help us now. Even if the team had 27-14-81-25 down the middle, do we have the wingers to help them?
The most difficult thing to do is to remain patient, but I still believe it’s about the big picture. We have an extremely capable leadership team running this organization who just so happen to know a bit about hockey. We might yet be surprised with what this team can accomplish this season, but the big prize lays ahead. So, as best you can, enjoy the ride. I want to win, right now, as much or more than anyone, but consider where we are going, not where we are. And, as for Tampa, let’s just wait to see how they end up. After all, only one team will win it all and although they might have the better team this year, TB may not be any closer to etching their name in the Cup then the Habs. In fact, I’m not yet prepared to declare them the divisional winner.
I invite your feedback and welcome the opportunity to discuss the Canadiens @RabidHabs_CJ.