Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Not Your Manic Monday

What a weekend it was, Habs fans. Did they have you believing again? Even the most doubting of tanquists like myself has to admit that last week's 4-game win streak had me thinking that maybe... just maybe... there was a sudden reason to cling to hope. Maybe a truly miraculous run was still possible. Maybe this team could play like all hoped they would coming into the year.

The 5-0 win Saturday over the arch-rival Toronto Maple Leafs felt good. Even in my biggest tanker moments, I still wanted nothing more than to watch the team contribute to extending Toronto's playoff dry spell, hoping that the Canadiens would lose every night except when facing the Leafs. For a re-tooler, then, April 7th's season finale has the potential to be this season's equivalent of a 7th game of the Stanley Cup finals.

The team's prospects - not that they've been the problem whatsoever this year - also got in on the act to put fans in a good mood, if only for a brief stint. Brendan Gallagher's weekend consisted of a goal and 2 assists, with the marker tying him for all-time leading scorer in Vancouver Giants history. Michael Bournival put up a goal and 3 helpers in his 2-game set, while teammate Morgan Ellis's 2 assists went along with a +5 rating. Nathan Beaulieu's 4 assists this weekend have him on an impressive 4-game, 8-point streak. But perhaps most impressive was Ryan White, who after only making his highly anticipated season debut last week, scored 4 goals and an assist in 4 AHL conditioning stint games.

I hope you enjoyed it while it lasted, Canadiens faithful, as instead of a manic Monday that would have refilled the bandwagon with what should have been an "easier" win over the cellar dweller Carolina Hurricanes, we all came crashing back to reality with a hard thud. Blame Carey Price for not having his best game of the year if you'd like. Blame Andrei Kostitsyn for pulling his famous disappearing act. Blame Scott Gomez for... oh wait, you already blame him. Blame Pierre Gauthier for sending Jaroslav Spacek (1 goal, -1) to Carolina for Tomas Kaberle (1 assist, -2). Blame Montreal's powerplay for - after finally showing life with 2 goals in the 2nd period - allowing a backbreaking Eric Staal shorthanded tally early in the third. Blame whoever you want. Had anything really changed?

Following another patented 2011-12 Montreal Canadien Third Period Collapse™ (MCTPC), despite last week's heroics, the Habs awake today still 2 games below .500, 7 points out of a playoff position, and though currently in 11th place, just one point up on each of the 12th, 13th, and 14th place clubs in the East, each of whom hold two games in hand on them. In fact, although last week's run allowed the hopeless romantic and diehard fan in me to live some highs, my rational tanker identity for this season knows that dropping last night's decision to the Hurricanes was a huge step towards hopefully securing a high pick. The loss puts Montreal just 2 points up on 15th place Carolina, with both teams having played 57 of 82.

Now, I hear what you're saying. I'm giving up too easily. After a good week, just one bad game and I'm back to doom and gloom. But let's take it for what it was: a good week for what has been a poor team for most of the season. To make the playoffs, the team would likely need something like a 20-5-0 record here on out, and while it is true that it could be achieved by repeating the past week's 4-1 record five times over, I would say the odds of that occurring are about as likely as you winning the team's season ticket Lotricolore charity lottery with a single entry. "But... But... The St. Louis Cardinals!" you rebut. Yes, the Cardinals overcame a substantial deficit in turning a tough season around and going on to win a championship, but baseball isn't hockey. First of all, the baseball season is virtually double the length of the NHL's, meaning there is significantly more time to make up lost ground. Even still, you might argue, the Cards sat 10 and a half games back of the Atlanta Braves with just 32 games to play in their season. Well that leads to a second point, which is that even with exceptional play, it took a monumental collapse of epic proportions on the part of the Braves for St. Louis to get in. Still, there is no reason why such a bad spell couldn't befall any number of playoff hopefuls in the East, allowing the Habs to leapfrog them. Then what makes me believe the playoffs are such an impossibility? The most compelling difference between the NHL and MLB standings, being the existence of hockey's 3-point games. Three point nights can be your friend when you're in 7th or 8th spot and trying to hold on, collecting loser points here and there, but when you're in a hole, the more points that get spread among the teams you are battling with, the bigger the hill becomes to climb.

This is why I maintain that the plan needs to remain on course. A few happiness-inducing wins right now for a 10th or 11th place finish aren't in anyone's best interest. The main goal for all is to put together a Stanley Cup winning team, and the best way for the team to help itself towards that end will be to add a premiere franchise player courtesy of a top 5 draft selection.

So let's sat back and enjoy the show to the trade deadline and beyond. The call-up of Ryan White (and extremely odd 24 hours of Ian Schultz) in preparation for Wednesday night's dance with the Boston Bruins should at least keep fans entertained. Beat the Leafs, beat up the Bruins, and add a Mikhail Grigorenko or other top end talent? That's plenty to satiate my 2011-12 Hab needs.

[apologies for lack of updates Thursday, Friday, and Monday; as I Tweeted from this site's account, I was in Portugal and did not have sufficient time to prep pieces]

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