Montreal Canadiens: 5 Reasons the Habs Are a Playoff Team

Ryan SzporerContributor IIIFebruary 13, 2013

Montreal Canadiens: 5 Reasons the Habs Are a Playoff Team

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    For the record, the Montreal Canadiens did not look like a playoff team when they gave up a three-goal lead against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night.

    Last week, it was more of the same, when they lost to the Boston Bruins after giving up a one-goal third-period lead. They certainly didn’t look like one when they gave up a two-goal third-period lead against the Buffalo Sabres, either, including the game-tying goal with less than two seconds left.

    And anyone who was watching the lamb-to-the-wolf slaughter on Saturday night won't need any convincing that they didn’t look like one against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Although they did lose 6-0, look at the bright side: They didn’t give up a lead at all.

    Looking at additional silver linings, there is still hope. It’s still early in this season and Montreal has a decent record. It’s far from time to push the panic button. Although, the sheer confirmation that one exists certainly wouldn’t hurt at this point in time, you know, just in case.

    One must nonetheless admit that every team, even the best ones out there, suffer their fair share of regular-season slumps. Here are five reasons the Habs can still theoretically make the playoffs:

The Shorter Season

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    It was clear at the end of 2011-12, with the team’s third-to-last finish, that the Habs would be one of the teams to benefit the most from the shorter season. Taking the last week as a sample of what’s in store the rest of the way, it would seem the end of the year can’t come soon enough.

    Hell, the end of each game can’t come soon enough these days.

    Of course, this is just one rough spot, but the reasoning holds true that weaker teams are more likely to stay with the competition over shorter stretches than over the course of a long season.

    Now, are the Habs a weaker team? Their 6-2 start might indicate otherwise, in which case they will still benefit from the shorter season, just not as much as if they were say the Columbus Blue Jackets, who, on paper, are really bad, and in practice are, well, just slightly less so with a 4-7-2 record.

    In any case, a shorter season still limits injuries, which in recent years has been an area of concern for Montreal.

Health

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    Like it or not, there is a direct correlation between performance on the ice and number of man-games lost due to injury. Last year, that was plainly evident in Montreal, with the Habs finishing with just 67 points while suffering a league-high 356 man-games lost.

    Teams and their fans like to believe there are enough redundancies in place and depth within a system to counteract injuries. However, the simple truth is the players in a team’s opening-night lineup made the cut because they’re best suited to help the team win.

    Take away any one of those players, and, yes, it may give an unproven prospect a chance to step up and succeed, but it also wreaks havoc on team and line chemistry, with individual on-ice roles and responsibilities no longer necessarily assigned to those most accustomed to them.

    So, when Montreal lost captain Brian Gionta for a total of 51 games last season, they suffered a slight vacuum of leadership. With Andrei Markov limited to just 13 games, the power play stunk it up big time. And with Scott Gomez dressing for only 31 games, everyone else had to pick up the slack and suck as much as him (but still couldn’t do it as well).

    This year, the team has been relatively blessed in regard to injuries, with only Max Pacioretty losing time as a result of his appendicitis (and Ryan White his boneheaditis). Assuming things stay this way, however unlikely that may be, Montreal will have a good chance to become a playoff team again.

Balanced Scoring

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    Heading into last week, the Canadiens had three lines that could score consistently, which is pretty much all you can realistically ask for as a fan from an offensive standpoint.

    I mean, sure you could ask for a fourth, but that would mean more ice time for Ryan White, and I’m pretty sure Michel Therrien would sooner lace them up himself than give ol’ “White-Out” more chances to make a mistake.

    Still, the fact of the matter is, for the first time in a while, the team has legitimate depth up front (as well as on the blue line) that gives the coaching staff good reason to roll three lines, leaving legs fresher and less likely to cramp up over the course of the season.

Special Teams

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    Games are won and lost with special teams. Technically, yes, they are done so with goals, but for the sake of this argument bear with me. (Yes, they are also won with sticks and pucks for all you smart alecks out there.)

    Case in point, though: Montreal was enjoying a 23.9 percent success rate on the power play prior to the 2-1 loss to Boston. After the 6-0 loss to Toronto, Montreal had dropped to 22 percent with the man advantage, which, over just three games, is pretty hard to do, like Scott Gomez scoring hard.

    Montreal nevertheless has displayed an inherent ability to dominate on the power play so far. If the Habs make the playoffs it will be in part because of that fact, along with a strong showing on the penalty kill...and you know what they say about penalty killing, namely in regard to who the best penalty killer is?

    And, no, it’s not the guy in charge of the clock.

Goaltending

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    Goalie Peter Budaj has a 4.32 goals-against average and an .866 save percentage. Thank God that’s only through two starts. Thank Jesus Price, in other words, for the team’s 7-4-1 record through 11 games.

    Montreal’s No. 1 goalie has indeed been a difference maker. Even with the six goals against Toronto on Saturday, his stats have been impressive so far this season.

    The above nickname may be not have helped Carey Price keep his ego in check when it became ubiquitous a few years ago, but it is apt in that if Montreal makes the playoffs it will be by following his lead.

    He’s Montreal’s appointed savior even if he fails in the end. The Habs will live and die by his play this season.