The final quarter of the season for the Montreal Canadiens has begun. The Habs sit in the playoffs, but it is so precarious.
They will need in the last 20 games probably 24 points for a total of 97. They need a record of 12 and eight to conclude the season because the east is especially strong this year with four good clubs fighting for three spots. That 12 and eight is attainable but it will be difficult.
It started Monday with the New Jersey Devils in Newark.
- The Habs didn’t have a good performance for more than two periods. Everyone was having a long and deep sleep. Paul Byron then scored on a shorthanded breakaway and everything changed. They found their momentum, but they couldn’t find the net again and lost to the Devils in a vital game 2-1. The only horse is Byron as he scored an absolute beauty with that amazing speed. He’s also been a much better finisher on breakaways than he ever was in Calgary. Byron has four points in four games since coming back from injury. He’s the only player worth pointing out in an otherwise abysmal effort.
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- As much as it was the right thing to do not sacrificing a better future for a limited present, it clearly did not sit well with the Habs 19 who were on the ice in New Jersey. They played like they were disappointed that they didn’t receive any help down the stretch from their general manager. So while in the Wilde Cards you will see how wise it was for the GM to not do anything drastic, here you will see that the players may have found him to be a goat for not getting a Wayne Simmonds for scoring or an Adam McQuad for some defence. It is human nature to think your GM is pulling in the same direction as you, and it is human nature to be disappointed upon realizing that he was not.
- The Habs were horrible all over the ice. They had absolutely no jump. They didn’t create offensively against a team that had nothing to play for and has been horrible this season. The Habs also lost their last time in Newark, so you would have thought they would have brought a little more to the rink than the last time, but they brought nothing. The Habs are a fast skating team but when they are not bringing those fast legs, they are a bad team. They are not so full of high-end talent that they can ever mail a game in then use their great finish, or great skills to put a couple or three nice plays together to win games that they shouldn’t. They aren’t upper echelon enough. They need to give all that they have to find success. Anytime that their legs aren’t churning, they are definitely not a playoff team, and if they don’t get their legs going soon, the standings will reflect that. This was a vital game to turn it around. They had the weak opposition. They had the rest from Saturday. They had to show they could recover from the loss in Toronto. It was all aligned in their favour and they didn’t seize it whatsoever. This was the first night this entire season that they didn’t look like they are going to make the playoffs. This malaise has to change as soon as Tuesday night.
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- It’s time now for a discussion on some of the struggles that Shea Weber is having. His strengths have been noted here many times, but not the shortcomings. It’s easy to mention that he is not the fastest player, yet he has been among the best defenders in the league. There are always going to be moments that he is beaten on the long sheet of ice, but he more than allows for that with his intelligence to not be caught out. The issue is actually becoming that he is losing his check at times in the tight areas. This is supposed to be and has long been his strength. On the first goal, it was Victor Mete who was handling his man well in front of the net, but Weber who lost his man who then deflected a point shot directly in front of Carey Price. This is the mistake that is hard to take from Weber. He is usually so strong in this area but has not been in the last two weeks. Perhaps the massive amount of ice time that he logs, and the hardest match-ups that he is forced to face every single game to take the load off less able players, is finally taking a toll on him. They have to have Weber during this stretch run, or they really don’t stand a chance to get this playoff spot. Right now, it does not look good. Their leader is not leading.
- On the second Devils goal, it was the same Weber and Mete pair on the ice, but this time it was Mete who lost his man cutting across the crease on a goal that looked very similar to the first. Mete was chasing his man while Weber was right behind him. Neither achieved their goal and the Devils were up by two. The first pair is supposed to be your most stable pair and it is not at all the case. Naturally, it is obvious to all that they get the hardest minutes and hardest match-ups, but they still have to be better than to be beaten for two goals so cleanly.
- The Montreal Canadiens essentially stood pat Monday as the trading deadline passed. They made only one trade getting Jordan Weal for Michael Chaput. Weal will add some speed to the fourth line. It was the right move for GM Marc Bergevin to not sacrifice future for the next 20 games considering the spot where the Habs find themselves in their rebuild. The club is doing well, but they are not one move away from challenging for a Stanley Cup. If they make the playoffs this season, considering where they were last season, it will be a terrific bonus. If they do not make the playoffs, then they will when the bevy of some of the most talented prospects in hockey to arrive. Those prospects would have been sacrificed Monday for Bergevin to push for a playoff berth. However, what would that have done to get a rental player to make the playoffs this season, only to see Ryan Poehling or Alexander Romanov become an NHL star for seven years with another club? In the cap world, the greatest asset is the cheap and controllable seven-year-asset. The Habs can control their salary cap with all of these young players coming on board, and when they are ready to star, then jump into the free-agent market to send the team over the top to make a run for something special. This may not be the sexiest thing to hear, but it is the correct course of action. It is essentially the course of action of the Winnipeg Jets for the last five years. The Jets did not jump into the free-agent pool. The Jets did not sacrifice picks to finish eighth in their conference. Winnipeg built patiently with draft picks to become a powerhouse. Once close, like now, it is the Jets who made a remarkable six different trades on Monday to make a run for glory. The blueprint is clear: build the foundation of your house through the draft, then get to the top with free agents as the end step. Bergevin is following the blueprint to the letter — finally. There was a day when he may have over-evaluated what he had and seemed to be of two minds. On this day, his mind was clear and sharp. He has his goal on what could one day be, and for the first time, one can actually see that goal could be a Stanley Cup. Imagine the line-up on Monday night, that is already strong, supplemented with Romanov, Poehling, Nick Suzuki, Josh Brooke, Jesse Ylonen, Joni Ikonen, Cayden Primeau. Imagine adding seven talented players to a Habs roster that is already good. The Habs are in a very good place, and a playoff spot this season would be an outstanding experience for this young team, even if they were to exit quickly.