The Canadiens have landed with a big thud after riding high on a six-game winning streak, but after sleeping through last night's 2-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators, I think a little bit of perspective is in order here.
The Habs entered the Olympic break in eighth place in the conference. Barely. The Rangers and Lightning were only a point back, the Thrashers were two back, and all of them held games in hand. A playoff spot, let alone finishing fifth in the conference, was very dicey.
After picking up 15 out of 20 points since the break, the Canadiens are in a far better position than anyone could have hoped or imagined. I remember Josh Gorges talking during the break about needing to win two of every three games the rest of the way to have a good shot at the playoffs. At the time, there were 19 games left on the Canadiens schedule, which meant 12 or 13 wins would do the trick. I thought he was crazy, and I think deep down he thought he was a bit crazy as well.
Now, the Habs need to win five of their last nine games on the schedule to reach Gorges' magical mark, and I won't say that's a given, but it's highly possible.
Still, last night's snoozer at the Bell Centre needs to serve as a wakeup call to this team, a reminder of who they were and are. A lot of people will point to the power play as being the top culprit, but the power play's been pretty mediocre for some time now, and it didn't stop the Canadiens from winning game after game (this is what I wrote about last night). The team that won six straight was one that spent shift after shift in the offensive zone, not the one last night that struggled mightily to get through the neutral zone with the puck.
Brian Gionta spoke repeatedly of the lack of puck support, both last night and in Toronto on Saturday. He should know, because I don't know how many times last night Gionta crossed the opposing blue line by himself, only to be forced into taking a routine shot from the top of the slot simply because he had no help with him.
But the Canadiens are at a dangerous point because it appears the return of Mike Cammalleri and Marc-Andre Bergeron should come tomorrow night in Buffalo. The team can't view these guys as the cavalry coming to save them. Something needs to change in the approach and execution of the last two games. Bergeron alone will not save the power play, and Cammalleri alone will not necessarily wake up Andrei Kostitsyn (though it definitely can't hurt).
A lot of people were absent last night for the Canadiens. I thought Scott Gomez played his worst game in weeks, Benoit Pouliot was invisible except when getting smacked by Andy Sutton, Hal Gill regressed from his strong, sound play since the break, the role players who had provided so much lift provided none.
But the situation is far from dire. It's actually better than anyone could have hoped.