And then there were six.
Last week at this time, I was reminiscing over the beginning of the season, how well the Canadiens had managed to keep the wheels in motion, and the great turn-around they made in January after the December slump.
My how 7 days can change the landscape that surrounds us.
As promised in last weeks post, I continue to look forward at the week, and the 3 matches that face the Canadiens on a team by team, game by game scenario. But before looking ahead, looking back to the last 3 outings is imperative to knowing what will need to be corrected for success between now and Saturday.
Since cruising out of Minnesota after a luxurious goal scoring outing, the teams offensive luster has come to a grinding halt. Not since Tom Pyatt scored the teams 8th goal of the game at the 13:55 mark of the third period, has a single Habs puck found the back of the oppositions net.
Frustration isn’t just mounting with fans across Habs Nation – which was more than evident by the “boo factor” uttered from the Bell Center stands on Saturday night. It was also evident on the faces of the players.
But the issue, in my humble opinion, is not as complex as some might make it out to be.
Les Boys need to get back to what made them a success all season to this point. They know they are a small team that has great speed. They know they are great when they clutter up the neutral zone, and chip the puck in deep, chasing it into the corners. They know with accurate passing, tape to tape magic; they can cycle low and control the offensive zone. If you read back on all my posts, I’m quite sure you’ll think I sound like a broken record.
But it gets said time and time again, because it’s the truth. It’s the formula that makes this team successful, and they have dropped the ball as of late, failing to stay within that game plan.
All week we watched a squad play against sizable teams by trying to match them with size that they don’t have. The result was proof enough that they need to get back to utilizing their strengths.
I have watched hi-lights to no end this week, and find myself suffering the same fate over and over again. A burning desire to curse, and in general – an upset stomach. It’s painful to watch.
The team remains undisciplined. They continue to send player after player to the penalty box, and force themselves to play short-handed.
When they are fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of a penalty call, the powerplay looks pathetic. Wisniewski and Hamrlik continue to make errant passes across the top of the blue line, resulting in one of them chasing a puck back into the neutral zone, losing any momentum they may have gained during the PP.
Gomez, Cammalleri, and Plekanec are all showing the poorest ability to complete a simple tape to tape pass, often resulting in turnovers. Those in turn become scoring opportunities (if not goals) for the opposing team.
Mara, Gill, and Sopel have been feathering the puck in attempts to clear the defensive zone which in the end, becomes a turnover and a potential goal.
It’s not that this team can’t compete. It’ just that they aren’t competing the way they need to. Stick work has become obsolete, and players are looking for the big hits to take opponents off the puck.
That all has to end tonight, if the Habs are going to gain 2 points, and right the ship that is listing helplessly down the stretch to the playoffs.
So the week ahead looks like this:
- The Atlanta Thrashers: Tuesday night is the teams second last home game, as a failing Thrasher team comes to town.This is a team that once was contending for a top spot in the Eastern Conference that went on two very long slumps, taking them well out of a playoff position. The problem is the mentality that they have going into the 5 game road trip they embark on tonight. They are calling this trip the “2011 Spring Spoiler Tour” (reported in the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) If that doesn’t send a strong message to the Habs tonight … I’m not sure what will. The Canadiens walked into Atlanta at the beginning of the month and secured a 3-1 victory. Tonight is a “must duplicate” game to start the turnaround.
- The Carolina Hurricanes: In yet another back to back outing for le Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge – of which very few have been successful – we head into the RBC center to take on a team who’s playoff hopes only remain alive with every win they can acquire in the last remaining games. Montreal has owned the Hurricanes all season (3-0-0), which is something no doubt the home town boys will be looking to avenge on their own ice. It’s desperation time for the Canes, who have a game in hand over the Buffalo Sabres – the team they’re chasing for eighth spot. Staal, Jokinen, and Skinner all have the ability to make it a tough night as they tend to compete very strongly verses the Canadiens. The question lies in who will get the start between the pipes for Montreal, and if the defense will get back to the shot blocking machine they may need to be in this contest.
- The New Jersey Devils: The Habs have been at the mercy of the Devils on many occasions, and this season has been no different. Martin’s squad is 1-2-0 vs the Devils, and has been outscored 8-5 (which included a Jersey shutout). New Jersey has no hopes left to contend for a playoff spot, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. They are notorious for slowing the Habs pace, and restricting them to few goals. Not something that you want to think about in the middle of a scoring slump. Hope will have it that many a puck will find the back of the net for the Canadiens before this match-up. Confidence going into this game will be paramount – regardless of outstanding play by Carey Price – which is expected.
So hope reigns eternal that by Saturday night, none of us will be looking back on a week that “could have been”, but instead are looking back at the week that “was”.
Tonight will set the tone for that week, and an early goal is almost a must. This franchise doesn’t want to do what it did last year, and wait till the last game of the season to secure a playoff position. What they need is to secure it now, and build that ever important momentum for what will surely be a tough grind in the post season.