As the title indicates, the Habs put on a good show over their recent road trip out West, collecting 4 of 6 points against San Jose, LA and Anaheim, and when including the game in Boston, the Canadiens have won 3 of their 4 games post Olympics. The trip started in Boston with a 4-1 win. Montreal outshot the Bruins 32-24, Carey Price was stellar, 3 of the 4 goals came from third and fourth line players, but their PP wasn’t very good. After that strong showing came a 3-2 loss against the Sharks. San Jose managed to throw 40 pucks at Carey Price, and when you combine that with quite a few unnecessary and untimely penalties, the Canadiens ended up giving the Sharks a game that they really could have won. Winning only 19 of 61 faceoffs didn’t help either; and neither did scoring only 1 powerplay goal. Next up was a Saturday night tilt in LA, where the Habs were the better team for the majority of the game and ended up with a 4-2 win. The shots were even, but I thought that Montreal managed the puck very well with very few turnovers and their PK was excellent. Jaro Halak played well in goal, but the real story was the exceptional play of the GPS line (Gionta-Pouliot-Scott). Once again, the Canadiens didn’t score on the PP (although to be fair they only had 1 opportunity) and faceoffs were an issue, with the Habs winning 22 of 55 draws. The concluding game of the trip in Anaheim turned out to be the gutsiest of them all. With the Canadiens down 3-0 after 1 period vs. the Ducks, a goaltending change from Price to Halak seemed to spark the team as they rallied back for a 4-3 shootout win. With people starting to call their play into question, Andrei Markov and Tomas Plekanec were great; the Habs matched the physical Ducks hit for hit, Halak was fantastic given the circumstances of coming in off the bench, and they were much better in the faceoff circle (33 for 60). Once again, the PP wasn’t effective, this time going 0 for 3.
All in all, it was a successful road trip and the Canadiens hope to carry this momentum back into Montreal, where they host Tampa tomorrow night for their first game at the Bell Centre since Feb-13. The Habs have played 67 games (15 remaining), and have a 32-29-6 record with 70 points. Despite games in hand, this puts Montreal in 7th place – 1 point ahead of Boston, 3 pts ahead of NYR, 4 pts up on ATL & 5 pts up on TB. It looks like Florida, Carolina, the Islanders and Toronto (haha!) are out of the playoff hunt. To be safe; Montreal will need 90 points to secure a playoff spot, which translates into 10 wins in their final 15 games. This is not impossible, considering only 5 of the games are against teams that are ahead of them in the standings.
Making the playoffs and setting yourself up to do well in the playoffs are 2 very different things. In a wide open conference, any team making the playoffs has a chance to represent the East in the Stanley Cup finals. It’s great that they are not getting outshot as often as they were earlier in the year. The Habs have 3 defensemen who rank in the top 5 in the league in giveaways (Hamrlik, Spacek, Gill) so limiting turnovers recently has been a major positive and has clearly affected the shots given up. It’s also encouraging that in 3 of the 4 games they got great goaltending. Finally; without their top scorer, they have put up 14 goals in 4 games since the break, which indicates that a lack of secondary scoring (which has plagued this franchise for the longest time) should not be an issue upon Cammalleri’s return. If the playoffs started today, my only real concerns for the Canadiens are the powerplay and their inconsistency at the faceoff circle. They absolutely need to improve in both of this area’s by the end of the season if they want a shot at advancing past the first round.
10 Ws needed – let’s hope that number is reduced to 9 after tomorrow’s game vs. the Lightning.
GO HABS GO!
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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.