Last night the Rangers won, thereby propagating the scenario where the Canadiens can still miss the playoffs – much to the delight of Leafs fans who haven't had anything to cheer for since they traded their only hope at escaping mediocrity for an injured winger.
Habs fans will fret, but the team still does have their destiny in their own hands. In fact, their destiny is so much in their hands that they could make this happen without having to play a second of good hockey past the 60 minute mark.
We fret though because those we devote our evenings to have been floundering for 5 days, and we don't know if they'll be a 3-0 team or the 2-5 team from a few nights ago.
We've been watching this team all season, and many of the players on both sides longer than that. A certain accumulation of "wisdom" has been gathered that we can predict some things that will aid in pursuit of the goal (one point). I propose to you here the five I find most pressing:
1) Andrei Markov must earn his reputation
We've seen Markov be a Norris defender at both ends. This season even. But from night to night, he's been fluctuating of late. It's time he finds it within himself to be the best player on the ice and ensure that whenever he is on, the Canadiens hod the cards.
2) Discipline must roll on
The Leafs are an explosive team, if an enigmatic one. One thing we do know is that players, as much as fans, for Montreal games. Even more charge seems to come when they feel they've been wronged by refs, or wronged by plays (i.e., penalties). Even if they have one of the worst PPs in the league by stats, it is a good PP against our defence. The Habs have been disciplined of late, taking fewer penalties. It would be a good idea if the team continued this for another little while.
3) Pouliot must play with Gomez
For the longest time we fretted about lacking the extra skill on the wnng to make a second line. Well, we acquired it, it's Pouliot. Pouliot and Gomez may not play the most energetic hockey, they may never get the Benoit Brunet seal of forechecking approval, but they do have an understanding – an understanding that they should always be ready for a pass (and both and Gionta have good enough control to receive them). The time for disciplining Ben is done. The Habs need this potential defence cutting passing in a big way. Like it or not, Pouliot must play with Gomez.
4) Bergeron must be restricted to the PP
The guy has an uncanny shot, but we can all see why he wasn't signed to play professional hockey. He scored his 3rd even strength goal last game, not enough to warrant the hope that he will bail out the team. He's a specialist weapon, use him as one.
5) Defencemen need to grin and bear it
For a game, the Habs defence have to take some hits. Quick, blind clearances have been costly. Long bomb passes lead to few breakaways and lots of one-on multiple offensive situations. For a game, ur defenders need to want that puck, hold until the right pass comes, the Leafs change lines, their partner is free. For goodness sake Hal Gill, you're 6'88" or something, how much can it hurt to get hit as shoulders crash into your hip?
There's more. Plekanec, Cammalleri you're not off the hook just because you avoided the top 5. Best players must be best, role players must do their best, defenders must defend not panic. It starts from there.
Many lists would have started with WIN at the top. This is true, but unfortunately no player, coach, spectator or anyone else for that matter can generate a guaranteed win. Yes they need to win, but going in to the game with that thought and nothing else is backwards. All a team can do is do the things that would help make their winning more likely, nothing more, nothing less.
I'm not saying I'm going to be celebrating if the Canadiens suddenly piece together a good game and lose, but can I reasonably ask more from the team?
It all boils down to a game. And though we find it hard to admit, this is what we've all been waiting for, a game that means something. Sure, making the playoffs is a catchall that allows us to mock those who missed, but not winning the Cup is not winning the Cup. I like the playoffs because each game is meaningful, many are elimination games. I like the team not being eliminated, because they can still win the Cup.
They're still alive. They can still win. It'll just take 17 wins, not 16.
Go Habs Go.