Well, after putting up a doughnut in two games against their closest playoff rivals, and getting outscored 10-4 in the process, it might be time to come to a painful realization: maybe, just maybe, the Habs aren't really all that good.
There, I said it.
Of course, that's a natural reaction following two heartless losses against two very beatable teams, and just like I try not to map out the Habs parade route after a few wins in a row, it would probably be a good idea to take a step back before making any sweeping determinations about them now.
But, and there is a major but here, the Habs have run out of excuses.
While Andrei Markov was out of the lineup, it was easy to keep expectations low because there were so many reasons to do just that.
When he returned, the Habs were 15-18-3, and after Sunday's 6-2 embarrassment in New York they are now 23-23-4. While an 8-5-1 record with Markov in the lineup looks pretty good on paper, it's a very deceiving mark. The first four of those wins came against the Islanders, Thrashers, Hurricanes and Leafs. Two of those teams could make the playoffs, the other two are among the worst in the league. The shot totals in those games left the Habs on the short end of a 186-96, and while Markov was tremendous it was Jaroslav Halak who was almost solely responsible for those victories.
In the last 10 games Montreal is 4-5-1, even though Markov is back, even Brian Gionta is back, even though Scott Gomez began producing like he's expected to, even though Benoit Pouliot finally arrived and gave the team an offensive jolt. The four wins came against teams who are currently not in playoff position, the six losses against teams who are. In that span the Habs showed some signs of life, such as the solid effort against New Jersey, but nothing that appeared sustainable.
So while the city has been embroiled in the debate between Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price, the fact is the Canadiens appear to be little more than a playoff bubble team, even when rolling nearly at full strength.
Obviously, no one was expecting the Habs to make a run for the Cup this year, but once you get in the playoffs you're supposed to believe anything is possible. Does anyone believe that about this team? Does anyone feel they could take out a New Jersey or a Washington or even a Buffalo in the first round of the playoffs?
Why am I asking this? Because at some point, and that point will come relatively soon, Bob Gainey will be faced with a decision on whether or not to try and acquire some help for the team or whether he should sell off some parts at the trade deadline. Tonight was Montreal's 50th game, and it came two weeks earlier than the 50-game mark last season. So while the trade deadline is still six weeks away, some serious evaluation of this team's chances to succeed needs to be made now.
When Gainey didn't budge at last year's deadline, it was a clear indication that he didn't believe in the team's chances of winning. Yes, he had acquired Mathieu Schneider earlier, but I think what Gainey did last summer spoke volumes about his level of belief in old personnel. So how does he feel about the group he has now? Will he be more willing to acquire some help for Jacques Martin since practically the entire team is now made up of players he chose to bring in?
Right now, after watching the last two games, I can't believe Gainey is very impressed. It's one thing to lose to a team that is clearly better than you, and those losses can even be encouraging if your team shows some heart and competes.
It's another thing entirely when you are facing two teams you are in direct competition with for a playoff spot in back-to-back games, and you completely lay down for both.