Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price.
The Montreal Canadiens may still have a long way to go to reach their full potential, but the end of a horrific four-game losing streak is a good place to start en route to clinching a playoff berth this 2013-14 season.
Even though they continue to get consistently outshot, their 3-0 shutout over the Carolina Hurricanes and a convincing 4-1 win against the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins this past week are good signs that the Habs still have life.
Their decent 29-20-5 record through 54 games confirms just that, with 28 left to go to gain some ground and perhaps even rise in the standings.
Here are five reasons the wild-card Habs are still a playoff team despite their recent skid:
Maybe Max Pacioretty misspoke, or maybe he didn’t think it through properly when he told The Montreal Gazette last Monday, “This isn’t rock bottom. Things could be a lot worse right now.”
Technically speaking, he’s right. The Habs could be in last place in the league.
However, in terms of effort level, it’s hard to dismiss Saturday’s 5-0 loss to the Washington Capitals during which the Habs registered only three shots on goals through the first half the game—at which point the thirteenth-place Caps had over 20 and were leading by four—as anything but rock bottom.
The lopsided loss being their fourth consecutive, including especially embarrassing defeats at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins, further reinforces that theory.
So, the Habs may believe as a group that things can get worse.
For future reference, though, the crowd sarcastically cheering when you simply get a shot on goal? That’s the equivalent of it cheering goalie Patrick Roy when he allowed nine goals in his last game as a Hab against the Detroit Red Wings.
What’s key, though, is that was the last time they ever let in 11 goals in a game. Granted, it’s like climbing Everest in that you tend to pace yourself between expeditions…and, uh, yeah, it’s also really hard to accomplish.
Seriously, you really have to want it—as a team—to even stand a chance at letting in that many…
The point is once you hit rock bottom, you can only go up. The consecutive victories over Carolina and Boston seem to prove just that.
Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby and Montreal Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges.
That isn’t to say the Habs have been playing all that well since December, just that they’re capable of being better.
True, they may not have deserved their 5-7-2 record since Christmas, but that’s only because it could have been much worse were it not for stellar goaltending.
Still, one need only look to their recent 2-1 overtime victory over the Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks as proof that the Habs aren’t that bad. They actually stuck with the Hawks throughout the game and even arguably outplayed them, getting it done at both ends of the ice.
Really, the Habs that played that night a few short weeks ago looked eerily similar to the ones that got off to a 20-5-5 start last season.
Now, admittedly, that had been Chicago’s third loss in a row and fifth in seven games.
And they soon afterward started a four-game losing streak of their very own. They also lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs of all teams 7-3 back in December.
While that might all point to Montreal’s victory over Chicago not meaning all that much, the Habs have also beaten the league-leading Anaheim Ducks, the Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins and the Atlantic Divison-leading Bruins…twice.
In short, Montreal is capable of greatness, It’s just a matter of them reaching that level consistently enough over their last 28 games to reach the postseason.
Montreal Canadiens P.K. Subban (from left), Max Pacioretty and Nathan Beaulieu.
The good news is that the Habs will be getting every chance in the world to prove they’re a playoff team over their remaining 28 games.
While they play the same amount of home and road games from here on out, 16 total are against teams with worse records.
That’s also not counting the two very winnable ones they’ve got coming up against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
That admittedly means the rival Leafs currently have a better record than the Habs.
However, it also points to another, much less depressing fact: Not all of the 12 other games are against teams you would call “elite.” I’ll leave it up to you to decide what exactly to call the Leafs. I’m pretty sure I can’t do it myself without risking the innocence of underage readers.
In any case, it also points to how the Habs have 14 of their final 28 games against division rivals, meaning they are still very much in this thing.
Montreal Canadiens forward Travis Moen and Boston Bruins forward Reilly Smith.
With the team’s recent struggles, it’s very easy to forget that the Habs are still 29-20-5, currently holding down a playoff spot and five points up on the ninth-place Columbus Blue Jackets.
It’s also very easy to imagine the Blue Jackets missing the playoffs for the umpteenth time in their existence, but that’s beside the point.
One of the main reasons that the Habs are very much in this playoff race is because they, in reality, aren’t out of it—at all. All they need to do is win and they’re in, which is a very simple premise in theory.
With the worst over, the Habs being better on paper than the teams trying to catch them and the relatively easy schedule coming up, they should make the postseason relatively easily.
With the 14 games left against divisional opponents—including two each against the Atlantic teams above them in the standings—they can still move up in the standings a great deal. Really, between them moving up or missing the playoffs altogether, that’s the more likely scenario of the two.
Fans shouldn’t be worrying that the Habs will miss the playoffs. Other teams should be worrying about the Habs catching up to them.
Goalie Carey Price has been a question mark over most of the first seven seasons of his career.
This year he’s had the answer to most everything the opposition has thrown his way. As such, he represents the Habs’ ace in the hole in their attempt to make the playoffs this season.
Things can admittedly still go horribly wrong for Price.
For example, last year he gave up 27 goals in his final eight games of the season and then another 13 in four playoff games. One could argue, however, that things just did go horribly wrong for him and Habs this season.
However, unlike last year when their struggles coincided with the first-round defeat at the hands of the Ottawa Senators, the Habs are still alive and kicking and have a chance to redeem themselves.
More than that, it’s oddly reassuring that when the team was at its worst this season, Price could have crumbled but didn’t.
His stat line may not reflect it accurately—getting the hook twice and allowing 17 goals on 102 shots during the four-game losing streak. However, Price is perhaps the only reason that 1995 loss to the Red Wings is still the last time the Habs have given up 11 goals in a game. It really did get that bad.
It’s also quite indicative of the strength of his overall play this season that after all that, he still has a .921 save percentage and 2.44 goals-against average.
Really, all signs point to Price being able to put this team on its back and leading the Habs to the playoffs if need be. With only one career series victory to his name, it remains to be seen if he can do the same come April though.
That’s the real question here. The Habs are undeniably still a playoff team in this 2013-14 season. What are they once they get there?