Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Does a year make a difference?

Of course it does, but only in terms of what everyone expected to happen this season.

Pundits across the land picked the Habs to win the Eastern Conference this year, but those very same people predicted the Canadiens would miss the playoffs altogether last year. So in those contexts, it would appear the Habs exceeded expectations one year and are failing to live up to them the next.

But look at today's standings and those from the same date last year, and you'll see that the Canadiens situation remains largely unchanged, not withstanding what was thought of them in those pre-season predictions.

Prior to Tuesday night's games, the Canadiens were tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference with 50 points in 38 games, the same point total as the Philadelphia Flyers but with one game in hand. The conference and the Northeast Division are runaway affairs, with the Boston Bruins flying high with 62 points in 39 games.

Logic would dictate that the best the Habs could hope for would be a monumental slide by the Bruins, but barring that, fourth in the conference is a realistic goal.

One year ago today, the Canadiens were tied for fourth in the conference with the Pittsburgh Penguins with 48 points in 41 games. Everyone in the East was staring up at the Ottawa Senators (OK, maybe a year does make a difference for some people), who were sitting atop the standings with 58 points in 41 games.

The city of Montreal was euphoric with how their Habs were playing, but even that unbridled enthusiasm was tempered a bit with the belief that there was no way the Senators could conceivably be caught.

Of course, we know now that Armageddon hit the nation's capital and the Habs went on a tremendous second half ride to claim the top seed in the East.

So is there any reason to believe the same thing won't happen this year? Well yes, the main one being that it's not every day you see a team with the talent of the Senators go into complete meltdown mode like that.

But are the Bruins really this good? Not a chance. And are the Habs better than they've shown so far? Absolutely.

Think of how the Canadiens have reached this point of the season this year and last. A year ago, the Habs were completely injury free, they had by far the best power play in the league and they had just found a winning combination up front with Alex Kovalev, Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn verging on an explosion. This year, the Habs are riddled with injuries, have one of the worst power plays in the league and Guy Carbonneau is still tinkering with his lines on a nightly basis.

In a nutshell, last year's team was peaking right around now, while this year's version has come nowhere close to peaking and has tons of room for improvement. Yet, despite that, the Habs are sitting right where they were last year, in a perfect position to pounce.

Now the onus for doing just that falls on the Habs. They've successfully weathered a storm the likes of which they never saw last season, and as the injured players slowly start coming back it will be up to Carbonneau, Kirk Muller and Doug Jarvis to find those winning combinations that propelled the team to such great heights last year.

One of those seems to already be in place as the Maxim Lapierre line shows no signs of relenting, and if I may make a suggestion I'd like to see Saku Koivu placed between the Kostitsyn brothers when he gets back, which is the line I wanted the captain on from the get go. It's practically the only mathematical combination Carbonnneau hasn't tried yet, so why not see if it works?

In any case, Carbonneau and friends need to find something that works pretty soon, because they have an appointment with a second half surge coming up very soon.


Ken said...


Arjun said...

Ugh. Something. That PP needs to work. I keep hoping when opponents get a penalty that we could somehow decline the PP. Why bother? And what' this about the Habs now looking for a PP quarterback? Why not just try Weber for a game to see if he can do the job? (see link I sent you by email)