Thursday, March 15, 2012
Playing with Fire
The best way I can think of to describe the play of your Montreal Canadiens since Andrei Markov's return to the line-up on Saturday night is most definitely "Playing with Fire."
On one hand, this describes the hot streak they've been on. 2-0-1 in the Markov 2k12 era, and 3-0-1 in the last four if you include the win over Edmonton. The last 3 games have been against 2 playoff teams and one just on the outside scrambling to climb in. Encouraging signs that the team - led by its top offensive players this year in Max Pacioretty, Erik Cole, and David Desharnais - still knows how to win and may be able to do it more consistently next season. After a very strong first game, Markov himself has shown that he still has a bit of rust to shake off, but also that his career is far from done. Playing these remaining games down the stretch will give him a great idea of where he needs to be at next season to shape his summer training regimen. Last night's game even brought us this little gem:
On the other hand, this stretch of collecting points has dangerously jeopardized the tanking race for the bottom the club is engaged in, and if the team doesn't stop "Playing with Fire" soon, they will get burned for the upcoming entry draft. Here's what it looks like as of today:
I don't mean to push the panic button; as of yet, nothing has changed. The Canadiens remain 28th overall, lining them up for the 3rd overall selection pre-draft lottery. But where they once had a 5-point buffer on the next-worst team in the East, there is now a logjam of clubs ready to be caught with another win or two (note the column to the right of the highlighted points column is non-shootout wins, which is the first tiebreaker after points).
Even with all of these teams having 11-12 games remaining, I don't expect for the Canadiens to be able to fall any lower. They had an opportunity with their game against the Oilers last week, but the teams are moving in opposite directions. Still, understanding that even if they were to run the table with an 11-0-0 record in their remaining games, the Canadiens would be exceptionally unlikely to qualify for the post-season, it is of dire importance that they be mired in another slump as quickly as possible.
This year's draft lacks in top-end pure offensive talent in the top 10, filled instead with many promising blueliners, so being in a position to draft either Mikhail Grigorenko or Alex Galchenyuk appears to be of prime importance. Grigorenko is very likely to go top 3, while Galchenyuk could/should be expected to go top 5 or 6. To increase their chances of landing such a big, offensive forward, the Habs need to finish as low as possible. Galchenyuk, for the record, made his season debut, returning from ACL surgery, last night. It was an unceremonious one, however, with Sarnia losing 7-1, and Galchenyuk finishing with no points and a -3 rating. It remains a big positive, though, that the Canadiens will be able to scout him closely here on out.
There are two MUST losses remaining on the calendar: this Saturday, March 17th, against the New York Islanders, and April 5th against the Carolina Hurricanes. Start Peter Budaj, say Erik Cole needs a therapy day, give Petteri Nokelainen and Josh Gorges shootout opportunities, do whatever you must. I'm not suggesting purposely throwing a game or telling players to mail it in, but we're in a critical enough of a situation that if we can take any reasonable excuse to gain some ground, then we must. Let's hope the Leafs make a late-season charge towards 10th in the East so that we don't need to cheer for the Canadiens to drop their final regular season game against them on April 7th.
As Habs fans, we've been put through a lot this season. Let's hope the Canadiens don't find yet another way to torture us by throwing away the chance to add a superstar piece of a future Stanley Cup-contending team.