Now officially out of the playoffs, the Montreal Canadiens are looking at playing spoilers from now until the end of the season. We all know that this team is better than its record shows. We’re talking about a team for which the core went all the way to the Stanley Cup finals a few months ago. Of course, having lost more man-games than anyone in the league has had its negative effects on results. But as Geoff Gorton described it in a few occasions since being hired as the Executive V-P of Hockey Operations, it was a perfect storm against the Habs this year.
Now, it’s a new season. In fact, it was a new season since Dominique Ducharme was replaced by Martin St-Louis and the results are a cause of optimism both on and off the ice. Not only does the team perform better as a whole, but several individual players have upped their game to where everyone thought it should have been all along.
With the distractions of trade deadline being behind them, players know that they’re staying in this organization until the end of the season at the very least. Some players are pushing to earn a job next season, whether it’s with the Canadiens or elsewhere in the NHL. Others will want to turn their poor season around, finish the year in a positive note. For many younger players, they will want to impress the new coach and new management, showing that they can be counted on next season, to be part of the team’s plans.
On Thursday night, one of the Stanley Cup contenders, the Florida Panthers, were at the Bell Centre. The Cats had in their line-up newly acquired Claude Giroux, Robert Hagg and former Canadiens Ben Chiarot. The Canadiens had just traded away a few players (Chiarot included). Yet, it took everything for the Panthers to claw their way out of Montreal with a hard-fought 4-3 decision over the lowly Habs. Giroux (2A, 4 shots) and Chiarot (1A, 22:09 TOI) were big contributors to that win.
And last night, the Canadiens, vastly outshot, stunned the Toronto Maple Leafs with a 4-2 win. While Jake Allen was the player of the game, the shots don’t reflect the way the game went as the Canadiens had many opportunities to take a commanding lead.
If teams are thinking that they will have an easy night just because the Canadiens sit in the basement of the NHL, they will suffer an upset. For one, there is no such thing as an easy game in today’s NHL. Along with better than ever coaching and scouting, the talent is diluted to the point that every team, aside from a few top players, can beat any other team on any given night. And Montreal will be right there to play spoilers…