Following Montreal’s monstrous 6-2 victory over Toronto, the Habs finally have some breathing room in the tight Eastern Conference playoff race. They sit in 7th place with 92 points, 3 points up on the Rangers and 5 points up on the Panthers. For those who started to wonder if the Canadiens might actually miss the playoffs, you can breathe a sigh of relief at this point.
Watching the game last night, I saw a team that was competing, a team that dominated from shift to shift, a team forcing turnovers and a team capitalizing on their chances. When Bob Gainey first took over the team; the Habs lost 5 of 6. Their most recent stretch of 5 wins in 6 games leads people to ask, “what happened that has made this team so different in such a short period of time?” To be fair, their 5 wins weren’t exactly against powerhouse teams, but the consistent domination of “marginal” teams in a league of parity must be noted. People can talk all they want about how confidence is higher now, there is better communication between coaches and players and how players’ roles are now defined. That may all be true, but I want to focus more on tangible things that can be measured. With that, I present to you the 4 major differences in the Gainey regime.
1 – The best players are the best players.
The newly formed Tanguay – Koivu – Kovalev line has been on fire. The three have combined for 14 goals and 20 assists in the last 6 games. That is an average of close to 6 points per game. That line is carrying the load offensively and providing the consistent scoring that the team has lacked basically all year.
2 – Special teams have been quite special.
In the recent 6 game stretch, the Habs’ powerplay has converted 13 times on 35 opportunities. That’s a 37% efficiency rate. Not to mention, the PK has done their job too, killing off 21 of 23 opposing powerplays. That’s over 90%.
3 – Goaltending has been much more consistent.
This point actually goes hand in hand with the next point as well. Price and Halak have given up a combined 12 goals (13 if you count the shootout loss to the Sabres) over the last 6 games. Compare that to 22 goals over the 6 games before that and you’ll understand why that number is encouraging.
4 – Team defense clamping down in the D-Zone.
The Habs forced quite a few turnovers last night in particular against the Leafs. Forcing turnovers forces teams to eventually settle for bad shots and a low number of quality scoring chances in general. Montreal has averaged 28.8 shots against per game over the last 6, which is a drastic improvement considering in the 6 games before that, the average number of shots against was 39.5.
There are many things that teams need to succeed in the playoffs. Your best players need to be your best players; that is essential. You need consistent and reliable goaltending; that is a must. You need great defense; that could mean the actual players (like Detroit) or that could mean a disciplined defensive corps that makes life difficult for opposing forwards (like New Jersey). And in the ‘new NHL’, your special teams need to be effective. I am not ready to crown Montreal as a lock for the Stanley Cup, but I will say that their recent run has assured their fans that they can compete, because they are showing that they have the ingredients that are important to have for a team to be successful in the postseason.
GO HABS GO!
About the Author
Written by Corey Krakower
I am the Director of NHL Content & Habs writer for ProSportsBlogging.com; I have spent 8 seasons behind the bench as a minor hockey coach; and I am the future GM of the Montreal Canadiens (according to my mom). I spend my days managing the Harrow Sports brand in my hometown of Montreal and I moonlight as a Hockey Advisor for Pi Athlete Management. Most importantly, I'll throw anyone under the bus for a laugh.