So by end of business today, the Montreal Canadiens still found themselves squeezed into first place overall in the Eastern Conference of the NHL. Who would have thought that? Fans in Montreal definitely have something to be joyful about. But are they?
Coming off a five game winning streak, something virtually unheard of here in Montreal, against the Lightning, Panthers, Flyers, Hurricanes, and Rangers – there were high hopes of ‘putting it’ to the Islanders Thursday night, and extend that streak to six.
Unfortunately, the Habs had one of the worst games of their season against the New York franchise, giving up a 3-1 lead to lose in overtime. It was a meltdown by a team that had commanding presence in the first thirty minutes.
As things unraveled, Twitter exploded as fans went from praising the team to swearing at them and showing immediate criticism. One of my own followers went as far as to suggest that it was only a matter of time till the team returned to their play of last season.
Even during the five game winning streak, fans complained that the team was playing boring hockey.
It makes me wonder what on earth could finally make a fan base happy on a regular basis. Winning the Stanley Cup? Every team that has done that in a given season has had bad nights as well.
Last year, le Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge finished 15th in the Eastern Conference – dead last. There was little to cheer about and I will admit that – I too – was thoroughly disappointed and voiced my disgust. But there is a significant difference between these two seasons, and it’s a bit ridiculous to start snapping at the team based on where they are today, after one bad game.
There are far more significant things to be positive about with this years team and coaching staff.
The powerplay is greatly improved, much of that to do with the full recovery of Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges, the re-signing of PK Subban, and the improved play of Raphael Diaz. The defense as a whole is one of the best in the East. Only two other teams have given up less goals than the Habs.
Offensively, Les Boys are much stronger 5 on 5 in a significant way. Even though the top line struggled to begin the season, Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais have made great strides over the past few games, and appear to be in synch again. The management has infused the team with a “youth on fire”. The additions of Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk have proven to be substantial. They play well together, have incredible hockey skill sets, and inspire some of the veterans to keep that same pace. Players like Prust have shown Canadiens opposition that we do have size and attitude, and are a well rounded team to be reckoned with.
Overall, we are finally seeing the end to the old regime, that held onto antiquated systems for the type of team that they had built. With the new players and contracts, the release of others, the current coaching staff has finally been able to introduce a system that is conducive to the players, rather than vice versa.
In regards to the team playing “boring games” as of late, I would have to disagree. These games have not been boring. Montreal has recently been playing against teams that are very evenly matched against them, and they have played them tightly. Yet, during the five wins in a row, only two of those games were decided by one goal. These were well coached, tightly played contests that handed Montreal ten straight points.
Even if the games were considered boring by some, boring wins are preferable to exciting losses. At the end of the day, it’s the number in the ‘win’ column that trumps how exciting the game was to watch, and also the number that can get you closer to winning the ultimate prize.
Tomorrow, the Habs will be challenged once again as the New York Rangers come to the Bell Center. Again, Rick Nash will be out of the line-up, but the Canadiens will once again deal with Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers are sitting in eighth place and will be anxious to avenge their loss to Montreal at Madison Square Gardens, so it will not be an easy night.
If La Flanelle can manage to do the things they didn’t do against the Islanders, they can gain another two points. They looked tired against the Isles (4 games in 6 nights), and it cost them. Passes were sloppy and weak, defenders couldn’t hold the blue line on the powerplay, nor could they stop the competition from gaining easy access to the slot in front of Carey Price.
But they’ve enjoyed a short break and have the chance to once again wow in front of the home town fans, where they are 7-3-1 this season.
Just keep in mind as you watch the game tomorrow night. This is a much improved team over last season, and are giving us great things to cheer about. Let’s focus on that and keep the momentum moving in the right direction.