Thursday, February 23, 2012

Habs Fans: How to Scoreboard Watch Effectively

Does a losing season have you confused? With the Canadiens hoping more for a top draft pick than a playoff spot at this point, are you unsure who you should be cheering for down the stretch? Then you've come to the right place!

Personally, I have two major goals for the remainder of the 2011-12 regular season, which are:

1 - For the Montreal Canadiens to finish as low as possible in the overall league standings, thus earning as high a draft pick as possible.
2 - For the Toronto Maple Leafs to miss the playoffs.

The second one might sound petty, but I can only imagine the taunting that would follow if the Leafs made the post-season while the Habs did not.

So how do we achieve these goals? Here's my take on the hierarchy in which you should want teams to win, starting with the teams that need to win most:

1) Carolina Hurricanes: Currently 28th overall with 57 points in 60 games. Objective - finish higher than Montreal. Expected to sell off more parts on the deadline.

2) New York Islanders: Currently 26th overall with 58 points in 60 games. Objective - finish higher than Montreal.

3) Tampa Bay Lightning: Currently 23rd overall with 60 points in 59 games. Objective - finish higher than Montreal. Already in firesale mode, having traded Dominic Moore, Pavel Kubina, and Steve Downie for draft picks. More departures expected, which will mean falling lower.

4) Buffalo Sabres: Currently 25th overall with 59 points in 60 games. Objective - finish higher than Montreal. Depth cast-offs expected.

5) Washington Capitals: Currently 10th in the East with 63 points in 60 games. Objective - finish higher than Toronto. Rumoured to be trying to sell off some pieces, but sit only 2 points back of the 8th place Leafs in even games played.

6) Winnipeg Jets: Currently 9th in the East with 65 points in 62 games. Objective - Finish higher than Toronto. They'll go for it; let's hope for a good story of them getting there. Tied with Leafs in points, but Toronto holds 2 games in hand + the non-shootout wins tiebreaker.

7) Anaheim Ducks: Currently 24th overall with 60 points in 60 games. Objective - Cheer for Saku Koivu... erm... finish higher than Montreal. The Ducks have had a very hot second half so hopefully that trend continues and they stay above the Canadiens in the league standings.

8) Edmonton Oilers: Currently 29th overall with 52 points in 59 games. Objective - Longshot to finish ahead of Montreal. The Oilers have 2 games in hand on the Canadiens and sit 6 points behind them. It would take a major streak from all of their young talent to see them rise up the ladder, but might as well hope for that if they're not playing any of the above teams.

9) Minnesota Wild: Currently 22nd overall with 61 points in 59 games. Objective - Finish higher than Montreal. If the Oil are a longshot to pass the Habs, the Wild are a longshot to finish below them. But with 20 games remaining, a cold streak is still a possibility, so when not playing teams 1-8, let's hope Minnesota wins.

10) Florida Panthers: Currently third in the East as the Southeast Division leader, with 65 points in 58 games. Objective - Finish higher than Toronto. Florida is up 2 points on the Caps with 2 games in hand, but if they start to skid, Washington winning won't be enough to keep Toronto out of the post-season. Thus, Florida needs to win some games down the stretch as well.

So now you know who you should get behind to help us achieve 2 key goals. To make sure it's clear, if any team on this list is playing a team that isn't on it, we should want the team listed above to win. Further, if team 8 is playing team 2 on this list for example, you should want team 2 to win, and so on.

One obvious caveat is that, while in most years, if the Habs were in, say, 8th place at this point, we would absolutely dread 3-point games between teams in 7th and 9th place, this year we want as many 3-point games between the above teams as we can get. The more points to spread around, the better!

What makes this list interesting is that, of the Canadiens' 21 remaining regular season games, 14 are either against one of those 10 teams or against the Leafs. Games on March 3 and April 7th against Toronto are the big ones that I would love to see Montreal take, while the 12 games against other teams either trying to make the post-season or near the bottom of the league's standings are ones it won't hurt so badly if the team drops.

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