The Canadiens have just completed a string of fourteen games twelve of them against teams behind them in the overall NHL standings. Over that stretch the team was just two games over .500 (7-5-2) which seems to re-enforce the opinion that the Canadiens play better against the good teams than the bad ones. The two losses against so-called elite teams were split; a loss in Boston and a win in Vancouver.
Starting with today’s game against Tampa, it gets tough. Five games over the next two weeks, four of them against Stanley Cup contenders, Tampa twice plus Boston and Pittsburgh.
It’s hard to get a read on just how well the Canadiens are playing. Yes they’ve won three in a row and four of the last five games. But the age old question is “Who’d they beat?” Florida? Atlanta? Carolina? And prior to that there were those three home losses against the Islanders, Toronto and Buffalo.
So we enter one of those key segments of the schedule with no idea what to expect. Through much of the previous month there were the problems with team defense and penalty killing. Jaroslav Spacek and Mathieu Darche are out with injuries. Pierre Gauthier solved at least part of this with the acquisition of first Paul Mara and then Brent Sopel and the team hasn’t lost since. Scott Gomez is playing the worst hockey of his time in Montreal and there’s talk of a hidden injury. Michael Cammalleri is back off that shoulder injury. Andrei Kostitsyn has reached a comfort zone after 12 games without a goal. Lars Eller seems to finding his way since being moved back to centre. The recent line shuffling seems to have worked. How they’ll do against the league’s elite is another matter.
We’ll see, won’t we?