The loss of Mike Komisarek for at least a month, if not more, is a real devastating blow to the Canadiens, especially since the schedule is about to get pretty tough.
If this little three-game road trip has taught us anything about the Canadiens, it's that they can ill-afford to lose a top-three defenceman for any extended period of time.
Komisarek wasn't playing the way he's capable of so far this season, but his impact was still significant. His presence against the other team's top line made opposing wingers think twice before digging for a puck in the corner, and he also made Andrei Markov a much better defenceman.
I'm not really sure why, but Markov plays much better with Komisarek by his side. That is not a knock on Josh Gorges, because he's filled in far better than anyone could have expected, perhaps including Markov. In Ottawa the other night, Markov appeared willing to take risks again, something he wasn't willing to do in the first few games following Komisarek's injury.
Maybe it was that Markov didn't trust Gorges enough to take those risks before, but when Markov plays it safe he's a far less effective defenceman because I feel he's the best player in the league when it comes to keeping pucks in at the offensive blue line. When he does that in situations where most defencemen would retreat, he gives the Habs some very valuable extra time in the offensive end. For a team that's had trouble of late getting set up in that area, that skill is invaluable.
So, what awaits the Komisarek-less Habs in the next four to five weeks? How about games at Detroit, Washington, Carolina, Pittsburgh, plus home games against Boston, Buffalo (twice), the Rangers, New Jersey, Calgary, Washington again and Philadelphia? That's 12 tough opponents in the Habs next 16 games, a stretch I already thought would be a telling part of the schedule, and that was before Komisarek went down.
I'm wondering if this might be a bit of a blessing in disguise for the Habs, because barring a trade for Jay Bouwmeester, Montreal will need Ryan O'Byrne to blossom into a No. 4 defenceman over the next five months to have any hopes of a playoff run. Well, what better way to see what they've got than to live with O'Byrne's numerous mistakes during Komisarek's absence and give him major minutes?
I know a lot of people are mortified by the way he's playing, but if he can improve by playing 20 minutes a game over the next month and gain some confidence with the puck (his biggest weakness), then the Canadiens will be a much better team for it and far better positioned to hit the playoffs.
Guy Carboneau appeared to give a sense that would be the plan when he tried to pump O'Byrne up today to reporters, and I think he's right that O'Byrne is showing improvement. It's just that when the team is having trouble scoring goals and breaking out of its own end, O'Byrne's main weakness becomes that much more glaring.
But I tink the Habs need to suck it up and live with it for now, because the more time O'Byrne spends on the ice, the less he'll panic with that puck. Kind of like another big defenceman who used to make a mistake with the puck every time he touched it, and that guy wearing No.8 turned out pretty good.