Top 5 Things the Montreal Canadiens Should Wish for This Christmas
The holiday season is upon us, and the Montreal Canadiens are entering it relatively impressively, holding down one of the Atlantic Division’s top three spots.
There’s always room for improvement, though, and if teams actually did make Christmas wish lists, there’s a good chance these next five things would be on it.
Here are the top five things the Habs should wish for this Christmas:
5. A Little Rest and Relaxation
After a particularly tough stretch of condensed hockey, during which the Habs played 11 games in 19 days, culminating in a painful-to-watch 2-1 loss to the Florida Panthers, head coach Michel Therrien expressed his frustration to The Canadian Press via NHL.com.
“The lemon is squeezed of all of its juice...I’m not blaming the players. I see what we’re asking of them. Very demanding…They gave what they could in the circumstances.”
Well, Michel, Santa has got you covered, because magically, the Habs will have a full week off following their Saturday night game against the Nashville Predators. Their next game will be December 28 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Of course, from Christmas Eve through December 26, all teams are off, and the Habs are far from special in that regard. Someone should probably do Therrien a favor, though, and let him in on the fact that that goes for the condensed schedule as well, with it being an Olympic year and all.
Every team has to go through similar stretches, not just Montreal, and they each have to make it work, hopefully without making excuses all the while. In any case, during this particular 11-game stretch, the Habs actually did, going an impressive 7-3-1.
Were it not for recent 6-0 and 5-1 beatings at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues, respectively, one would think the Habs should really be wishing for similarly condensed stretches the remainder of the season. Or, perhaps more accurately, to never ever be moved to the Western Conference.
If only the Winnipeg Jets had known what to really ask for last year.
4. More Scoring
Santa may have a little more difficulty delivering on this next wish, a spark to Montreal’s offense, which has scored just seven times in the last six games.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize wins are tied to goals scored, and in the last six games, the Habs are 2-4 with all the goals for in those two victories coming bunched together in single periods.
Needless to say, the effort level and results are all a far cry from those during the 10-game unbeaten streak immediately prior to this one, during which the Habs went 9-0-1 and scored 32 times.
Admittedly, overall, the Habs aren’t in horrible shape, offensively speaking, as they rank 21st in the league in goals per game with an average of 2.43. However, when you consider they managed an average of over three last season, with much the same roster, one has to wonder just where the problem lies.
3. Less Daniel Briere
For a guy who made a career playing bigger than his size, Daniel Briere has sure looked his 5’9” height recently—that is, if he’s been seen at all.
Made a healthy scratch against the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, chances are good Briere has learned his lesson and will be back in the lineup against the Predators on Saturday.
Habs fans will have to wait until next summer to see if the same can be said for general manager Marc Bergevin, who signed the 36-year-old to a two-year, $8 million deal last offseason despite his age and injury history. After being scratched, Briere has officially become a free-agent bust.
As if another team would take a chance on Briere at this point, with him producing (five goals and five assists in 26 games) at a pace lower than he did last year with the Philadelphia Flyers, after which he got bought out.
To add further insult to injury, Bergevin gave him a no-trade clause too, further limiting the Habs’ options if the trade request is real.
Unfortunately, the NHL does not allow “backsies,” so maybe Bergevin’s wishes would be better served asking for the DeLorean from Back to the Future instead. It’s a safe bet Santa doesn’t do time travel, though (I mean, even if he does fly through the sky on a sled, there are limitations).
Thankfully, Father Time will be along shortly, along with the Olympic roster announcements. Assuming a worst-case scenario and Bergevin can’t undo his clear mistake, those at least will serve as a temporary distraction.
2. Olympic Nods for Price and Subban
With the deadline to submit Olympic hockey rosters moved to January 7, Carey Price and P.K. Subban will potentially get their biggest gifts two full days after Christmas has ended (conversely, the U.S. will officially announce its roster on Jan. 1). Each gift is well worth waiting for, though.
Furthermore, with nine total Habs having shots at going to Sochi this winter (Alex Galchenyuk, Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Raphael Diaz, Alexei Emelin, Andrei Markov and Peter Budaj), there are certainly a lot of warm holiday wishes to go around.
Of course, teams generally don’t like to send their players to the Olympics due to the potential for them to get injured in anything but an NHL hockey game (or at all for that matter). The real truth of the matter is that getting injured at the Olympics is probably considered infinitely better than injuring yourself with, say, a snowblower at home.
Add to that the undeniable prestige of having your charges represent their countries and—let’s not kid ourselves—their NHL teams on the world stage, and Bergevin is probably secretly hoping both Subban and Price make the cut (and, sure…everyone else for all those other countries, too).
Price has essentially become a shoo-in in net (whether as the No. 1 or first backup) due to his stellar play this year (.932 save percentage for starters), but there is concern regarding Subban due to his defensive lapses (among other arguable problems in his game).
Nevertheless, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger, Subban has curbed those concerns recently. With his offensive numbers alone arguably a good enough reason why Canada must put him on the roster, Dreger says he has become “a leading contender for one of the coveted eight spots” up for grabs.
Nothing’s for certain at this point, though, other than both Price and Subban making holiday-time pushes to make the team, which will hopefully translate into a few wins before the break and a gift for Habs fans.
1. A Canadian Gold Medal at the World Juniors
With two top prospects set to represent Canada at the 2014 Ice Hockey World Junior Championship (Charles Hudon and Zachary Fucale), the namesake Canadiens have a vested interest in that particular nation taking home gold.
Again, the Habs have other top prospects heading to Sweden this Christmas, but it’s probably a little easier to cheer for those two.
Now, technically, Fucale and Hudon have just made Canada’s selection roster, but Fucale is one of only two goalies on it, and Hudon is a returning player (he made the roster last year but missed the tourney due to an injury). As a result, both are near-100 percent locks.
Meanwhile, 2013 draft picks Artturi Lehkonen (Finland), Martin Reway (Slovakia) and Jacob de la Rose (Sweden) are all vying for spots on their respective countries’ teams. Sebastian Collberg, Montreal’s 2012 second-round draft pick, is also poised to make the Swedish squad.
Like with the Olympics, there is concern over the potential for injury, but it’s not as overwhelming seeing as these prospects are likely a few years away from making the Montreal roster.
Looking at it another way, at how the positives outweigh any potential for injury, there is always the chance a player catches fire like Galchenyuk did for the U.S. last year, impresses the team that holds their rights and then makes the NHL earlier than expected. It gives the Habs and their fans a good look at their future.
I, personally, can hardly wait.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.