A treacherous road trip at Christmas usually leaves the Habs with a hill to climb for the New Year.
Thankfully for us fans, they decided to change things up a bit this holiday season with a few wins on the road and even a couple in Florida for the first time in what seems like ages.
Of the seven games since I last reviewed their play (after a nice Christmas break), I would say a few were must wins. By that I mean that anytime you play the Southeast division 5 times in 2 weeks, you'd better hope to come out with 6 points or better. And, the Habs did just that - taking advantage of their southern rivals to gather 7 of 10.
On the downside, the Canadiens did also manage to lose quite comfortably to Florida to start these weeks off, and threw in a game in Dallas that will hopefully be forgotten from this point on.
As a team in the middle of the playoff pack, though, this kind of inconsistency is to be expected. In fact, if anything their ability to take lessons from those two games will prove to be the most important thing they could take away from this Christmas hockey season.
In terms of individual play, these games could be summed up as the Kostitsyn weeks. Sergei being promoted has proved me and probably some others wrong about his readiness to play – but then Dave Gagner did initially say that Sergei was more ready than either his son or top rookie Patrick Kane ages ago. More importantly than Sergei's ability to stick has been Andrei's emergence. I can't say I am shocked, as I've been touting him based on his skill for ages. However, I have been a bit surprised at how he has become more of a shooter this past month. I think someone may have had a chat with him about that. Obviously, it is working out to the Canadiens, if not Kovalev's 40-goal quest's benefit.
In addition, as Tobalev has mentioned ad nauseum, Markov and Komisarek have been putitng in better performances of late. No coincidence of course that that Canadiens have been winning with the solid number 1 combo functioning well.
The one issue I see as a potential problem is the constant misuse of Saku Koivu. Obviously, Koivu is a talented player and a willing captain, but I feel that taking Higgins off his wing may prove to be a step too far. Koivu has the ability to make any winger perform better (as we've seen) and will always do whatever is asked of him. I just feel that while Koivu might make a 15-goal Latendresse into a 25-goal man, he might be better used making a 20-goal Kostitsyn (Andrei that is) into a 35-goal Kostitsyn. Obviously, Kostitsyn is currently flourishing, so messing with him might not be ideal. But at some point, it would be nice to figure out a way to get the best out of Koivu who could also excel in the right circumstances.
As long as the team wins this should remain a curiosity, but should the team hit another slow patch, I'd wager that Koivu will come under questioning. I'd suggest then, as I will now, that the criticism will be slightly unfair as he has been vital in the wins we have put up so far.
Quote of the week
On selective memory and barring any thoughts of Ribeiro's smug face (Mike Boone):
"As it was, they got a very well-deserved point to complete an outstanding 3-0-2 road trip."
Coming off a successful Christmas road trip...
... what might Rejean Houle do?
Convene a meeting with Carbonneau and Muller to find a way to get Brisebois into a bigger role, as he ponders what a good move that 4-year contract was with the no-trade clause back in the day.
... what might Sam Pollock do?
Convene a meeting with Carbonneau, Muller and Corey Locke to assure him another chance will come.
The week upcoming
A light week to be sure, but a tough one, in that both teams both recently played us. 2 points from these 2 are essential, 3 would be nice and 4 would be, well, what any team who thinks they are a contender for winning in the playoffs would get against two languishing teams.
Thursday night: Tampa Bay Lightning at the Bell Centre.
Tampa Bay are the latest team to fall to the bottom of the East. In a season where only Ottawa has been consistent in their position, I wouldn't be surprised if Tampa don't end up a last place team. In any case, they are slumping, so the Canadiens must take advantage of the situation (like any good team would do - see above) and win.
Lightning to watch: Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards – the midway scoring leader will be the latest to test a Quebecer's luck in Montreal, honourary Quebecker, Richards, often puts on a show in the province where he learned to be a star.
Saturday night: Washington Capitals at the Bell Centre.
Washington, while last for the majority of 2007, have recently pulled themselves out of the spin and have started climbing. In actual fact, they have played .500 hockey, managed to arrange a few OT losses and watched Tampa suck air for a few weeks. Mind you, if we're talking last 10, we are identical with the Caps, so complacency here would be ill advised. In addtion, their two recent wins have been impressive goalscoring efforts against the mighty Senators.
Of the two games, I see this as the tougher one, but a chance to win on Saturday at home against someone other than the Bruins.
Caps to watch: Alexander Ovechkin and Michael Nylander – Ovechkin scores goals like a true goalscorer, and he has an uncanny ability to do it with coverage as well, Nylander has had a couple of good games and looks to be coming out of a relative slumber (relative to what we were used to when he was next to Jagr...).
Poster outside Windsor station
Train leaves, circumstances permitting, following the first weekend of January. All tickets have been sold, but space may become available with possible cancellations.
[The subjective look at the week that was and the week ahead in Montreal Canadiens Week is supplemented by the objective analysis following every fifth game]