Habs Questions & Answers: The Homestretch

The lesson being learned surrounding the Montreal Canadiens at every level, inside of the organization and out, is one no longer familiar to those that had previously learned it.  When a team is in purgatory, all things are ubiquitous and contradictory.  When there are seemingly equal parts strength and weakness, this team is both the alpha and the omega.  The playoff race in Habs Nations is often a non-factor because they have either punched their ticket to the big dance with ease at about this time of year or because by this point it was already long determined to be a distant dream while visions of ping pong balls dance in everyone’s heads.

 

The likelihood of a front row seat in June –be it to the Stanley Cup or on the draft floor– is dim and such is about as far as certainty goes these days.  The unknown is what keeps fans, players, staff, management and ownership alike awake through these sleepless nights.  7 points out of a possible 8 in one week certainly helps get an extra few winks but it does not change the fact that for every great thing that the Habs have going for them, they have a doubt or a question mark of equal proportions.  Too many questions, not enough answers; when the answers do arrive, the questions seemingly somehow change.

 

Everywhere from various points throughout a single game to an entire stretch of games over the span of about a month or two has seen many incarnations of the 2018-19 Montreal Canadiens: everyone playing out of their minds while Carey Price struggles, everyone playing out of their depth while Carey Price shines, all things seemingly coming together for once and the times where it matters nil how anyone plays because Antti Niemi looks like he may not be good enough to attend a beer league practice.  This is what keeps everyone awake at night. At least when the Habs are making their usual sound run to the playoffs or racking up lottery odds to obtain the likes of Jesperi Kotkaniemi and make the anguish all worthwhile, everyone knows what the deal is.  Everyone can rest because they have certainty and something to depend on.  Losing that type of certainty creates situations like right now.

 

Brendan Gallagher is showing up every night… but how badly is Shea Weber injured? He is deemed well enough to play but his game is clearly being hindered by an issue with his foot.

 

Andrew Shaw has exemplified leadership and shown immense value at the perfect time to do so… but which Jonathan Drouin is going to show up? The one who looks like he has only one hand and one foot or the one who is so talented and dynamic that he only needs one hand and one foot to dominate the game?

 

Max Domi clearly wants this opportunity and all of the pressure that comes with it… but is Jeff Petry going to be a highly serviceable second pair guy or is he going to play down to his partner’s level?

 

Paul Byron and Victor Mete are going to skate faster than probably anyone else on the ice… but will Jesperi Kotkaniemi see more than two shifts/three minutes of a single period?

 

Are many teams in the playoffs better than the Habs at even strength? …is any playoff team’s power play remotely as bad as the Habs power play? (At last, an answer: The Predators and the Islanders both have awful power plays)

 

And now amidst all of the contradiction comes the ultimate answer in the form of the most pressing question: Can the Habs hold their lead over the Blue Jackets even though the Jackets look like they have a series of gimme games while the Habs have to walk through hell to get to the promised land? This answer is not a yes or no but if the Montreal Canadiens can come out ahead in the race with Columbus and maybe even ahead of Carolina, they will not only undoubtedly deserve to be there but they will also prove that in the most critical time of the NHL year, they can compete with the absolute best that the league has to offer… and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

 

The problem with the situation of the Montreal Canadiens as they stand right now is that observers everywhere are unsure of what exactly the goal is; whether they see post-season action or not, a Stanley Cup seems about as likely as winning the draft lottery, sitting around the tune of 1 to 1.5% at best in many minds.  There is no clear path to immediately boosting the chances of either ultimate goal for any team at one end of the spectrum or the other and everyone seems to be left wondering how the Montreal Canadiens can take that next immediate step to competing with the likes of the Tampa Bay Lightning as they sit poised to potentially break records that have sat for decades now.

 

…or is that next step going to be exactly what is about to happen?

 

In a time where down is up and right is left, maybe a short playoff run could provide more than meets the eye.  For someone like Carey Price, Andrew Shaw or Shea Weber, a short springtime outing provides very little but for the likes of Domi, Kotkaniemi, Mete, Lehkonen, etc. the experience is priceless.  The young, aspiring Tampa Bay Lightning of 2014 lore got notoriously stomped by the Montreal Canadiens in 4 games but kept much of that brief run competitive.  The Lightning walked through hell and got burned but here they stand now.  John Rambo did not simply walk into the jungle and eliminate anyone that stood in his path, did he? No, he went to war.

 

The Tampa Bay Lightning of 2015 that saw final round action for the Stanley Cup against Andrew Shaw & company in Chicago could not have gotten there without first understanding the peak of playoff pressure and what it took to withstand the heat.  While they will have the Bell Centre on their side as opposed to the unenviable position of going up against the Montreal faithful, the experience otherwise will be the same.  The gains taken from whatever comes of this season will be inspected long term and so much as one playoff game will be nothing but beneficial, knowing that the future will be more prosperous for it and that there will be new, young leaders ready to guide the likes of Nick Suzuki and other newcomers through it when their turn comes about.

 

They may enter what is traditionally considered a must win situation but this year it has become a scenario where the Habs cannot lose.

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One Response to Habs Questions & Answers: The Homestretch

  1. The goal is to make the playoffs and go from there one game at a time.

    habbernack March 25, 2019 at 9:24 am Reply

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