Friday, March 9, 2012
A Win That Hurt
The Montreal Canadiens had a huge opportunity yesterday evening to take a big step up in the draft rankings ladder. Your 28th ranked Canadiens were up against the 29th place Edmonton Oilers, a team just two points back of them and holding a game in hand. A loss would have meant - at least for now - Montreal falling into the slot giving them a pre-lottery 2nd overall selection.
On this night, it was not to be. Still, a 5-3 victory brought with it lots of positives, notably Max Pacioretty's 2 markers that now give him 30 on the season and 8 points in his past 4 games - amazing considering where he was one year ago. Lars Eller scored his 3rd goal in 5 games, now at 15 on the year. P.K. Subban's 3-point evening meant that - despite his horribly slow start to the season offensively - he has hit the 30-point plateau for a second consecutive year. All good signs moving forward.
The win hurt in another way than the overall standings as well, as breakout center David Desharnais left the game with an undisclosed lower body injury. As few as the Canadiens' successes have been this season, the little man has undoubtedly been a big part in them. While I wish him all the best in a speedy recovery, if he is to miss some action (even if it's only a few days as expected), it actually may not be the worst news for the team. Some reasons why:
1) It will benefit the Canadiens to have a weakened roster
Yes, this is me again toeing the Tanker line. Losses don't feel good in the short term, but the more points squandered between now and April, the better we'll feel at the Entry Draft in June. No Desharnais means less offense and thus likely/hopefully fewer wins, improving the team's selection.
2) It provides a chance for Lars Eller
The Canadiens will soon have to decide exactly what kind of player Lars Eller is and can be. Is he a two-way third line center? Does he have the needed offense to regularly play in the top 6? Should he be shifted to the wing? Desharnais regularly played over 20 minutes a night this season, meaning there will be lots of extra ice to redistribute, and Eller may benefit from it with some better wingers.
3) It sets a stage for Scott Gomez
Of course, Eller alone can't take on all of Desharnais's minutes plus his own, so the injury should also mean an increased role for the much-maligned Scott Gomez. This season has been about more than just Gomez's salary; it has become debatable if the team may simply be better off without him at any price. But he actually looked quite good last night, recording an assist and finishing a +1 in 16:16 of action, more than he'd played in any of the previous 4 outings. Most Habs fans expect the team to rid themselves of his deal this summer through an amnesty buyout clause in a new CBA; but what if no such clause is included? There is no guarantee teams will have any sort of a window to shed financial burdens, and if not, the Habs' brass will need to find another answer. Could a strong final 14 games encourage another team to take him off the Canadiens' hands in return for another (but lesser) big salary? A long short, perhaps, but we can only hope that someone would believe he turned corner and just needs a change of scenery.
So it was just one win, and nothing is "all for naught." Fans will still get a payoff at the draft for sitting through this season of horrors, provided there is no hot streak over the final 14 encounters (and there is no real reason to expect one). The next 3 games see Montreal do battle with Vancouver (fighting for 1st in the West), Buffalo (fighting for a playoff spot), and Ottawa (fighting for playoff positioning), so their spot in the East's basement appears reasonably safe.