The Montreal Canadiens' Olympic break is over and a fast start will be key to their hopes of making the playoffs this season.
They currently sit in third place in the Atlantic Division, fourth in the Eastern Conference. They have 70 points, yet the ninth-place teams trail by just seven points. The Habs are by no means a sure bet to make the playoffs.
Montreal will hope to start off on the right foot when they host the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday, February 23. Factors such as offense, goaltending and coaching decisions will be important to the Canadiens' post-Olympics success.
Here are the Montreal Canadiens' five keys to a fast start after the Olympic break.
The storm has passed in Montreal and it appears that Michel Therrien's job is safe—for now at least. But it will only take another three-game losing streak to make the "Fire Therrien" pundits resurface.
The Habs' bench boss had his team playing some pretty good hockey prior to the Olympic break. The Canadiens went 5-1-1 over their last seven games, taking 11 of a possible 14 points.
But let's not forget that Coach Therrien has made some mind-puzzling hockey decisions this year, some of which have certainly contributed to the struggles of the Canadiens.
One is his mistreatment of P.K. Subban.
Early in the season, it was his refusal to allow Subban to play any meaningful minutes late in the game. In January, it was his decision to bench his star defenseman for most of the third period in a game where the Canadiens trailed by two.
Frankly, this nonsense by Therrien has to stop. Subban is his best player. He needs to stick with him, even through a mistake or dumb penalty. It's hockey. Those things happen all the time.
It has also been proven that, contrary to popular belief, Subban is not a liability at all on the back end.
Canucks Army did an in-depth analysis comparing Subban's advanced statistics to other D-men on the Canadian Olympic team and the results are quite clear: Subban's career numbers show that he is the best offensive defenseman and the second-best defensive defenseman (behind Alex Pietrangelo) from Canada's roster at the 2014 Olympics.
He is not a risky defenseman. The numbers prove that. Perhaps Therrien should give that article a look, because he needs to figure that out as well.
The way Therrien allots ice time among the forwards is another decision that outsiders will never comprehend. Specifically, why is Rene Bourque still getting more ice time than Alex Galchenyuk?
Sure, Galchenyuk's been hurt and Bourque actually played decent hockey in the seven games leading up to the Olympic break, but we've all seen enough of Bourque to know that he will go back to playing the lazy, uninspired kind of hockey that he's become known for.
Galchenyuk, on the other hand, might be the most talented forward the Canadiens have on their roster. He makes things happen when he's on the ice. He plays hard and he plays with passion.
The numbers don't lie either. Galchenyuk scores the second-most points per 60 minutes on the Canadiens at 2.13. Bourque? He's ranked 14th with 0.96, just below Travis Moen.
Galchenyuk should be back on the ice with the Canadiens when they take on Detroit. Let's hope Therrien starts using Galchenyuk and Subban how they should be used.
It's no secret that Montreal needs some help up front. Outside of its top line, the team struggles to create offense.
Alex Galchenyuk is ready to return, which is good news for the Habs. He "is fully recovered from his broken hand and has been cleared for contact," according to Hockey Inside/Out's Stu Cowan.
His return will help, but trading for a top-six forward would really signal that the Canadiens are serious about their chances this season.
But who is available? Tomas Vanek and Matt Moulson are surely priced too high. The P.A. Parenteau rumors have been silenced. So why not Jaromir Jagr?
The 42-year-old ageless wonder looked dominant at times for the Czech Republic in Sochi. He finished the tournament with two goals and an assist in five games while playing more than 17 minutes per game.
And it's not just the big ice where Jagr is having success this year. He currently leads the New Jersey Devils in scoring with 49 points (17G, 32A) in 59 games.
It was obvious at the Olympics that Jagr already has a solid chemistry with Tomas Plekanec. He'd look great on his wing for the stretch run.
Considering the Devils are looking like a sure bet to miss the playoffs and Jagr is set to become a free agent at season's end, a trade makes sense.
After his Olympic performance, there will likely be a handful of GMs inquiring about Jagr this week. Hopefully Marc Bergevin will be one of them.
Most players returning from Sochi are going to be tired. They played five or six games in 11 days after traveling halfway across the world while their other teammates rested at home. A slow start is to be expected from some.
Yet, this doesn't really apply to P.K. Subban, because he appeared in just one game on February 14. He spent the rest of the time watching from the press box as his teammates dominated the world's best competition.
Subban should be fresh and raring to go for the Canadiens—and there should be a chip on his shoulder. He should want to show the NHL that he belonged in that Team Canada lineup.
But the key word there is should.
Did being a healthy scratch for Team Canada shatter Subban's confidence? Is he going to try and change his game just because Mike Babcock doesn't like his style?
Let's hope that Subban has the right attitude about the Olympics and takes it all in stride.
Hopefully he learned a lot from practicing with the elite of the NHL on a daily basis. There was a lot to be absorbed from the Olympic experience and it should ultimately end up benefiting him.
Subban is still just 24 years old. His chance to play for Canada, whether it be at a possible World Cup or the 2018 Olympics, will come. He just needs to be patient.
For now, Subban has to bring the right attitude back to Montreal with him. The Canadiens won't win without him at his best.
The Canadiens need him supporting the offensive rush, quarterbacking the power play and playing 25 minutes a night.
Subban is Montreal's best player who doesn't wear goalie pads, so his performance after the break will have a big impact on the Canadiens' hope for a fast start.
Max Pacioretty (middle)
It's no secret that the Montreal Canadiens struggle at times to find offense. They sit 22nd in the league with just 2.46 goals per game.
Scoring at that rate just isn't going to get you enough wins in the NHL.
Having an elite goaltender helps, but not even Carey Price can make the Habs a top contender when they're not scoring goals.
But what if the Canadiens could up their scoring average to three goals per game for the rest of the season? Then we're talking about a team that could make a serious playoff run.
Three seems to be the magic offensive number for the Habs this season. When the Canadiens have managed three or more goals in a game, their record is 23-4-2. When they have scored two or less, that record falls to 9-17-4.
If the Canadiens can bump their scoring average up by half a goal for the rest of the season, they'll resume play with a bang and perhaps even push to a deep playoff run.
Carey Price is of course the single biggest key to a strong start. He's also the biggest key to a late-season push and to any playoff success. The 2013-14 Montreal Canadiens will only go as far as No. 31 takes them.
It will be interesting to see how Price fares in his first few games back from Sochi. There's the chance that he could suffer from an Olympic hangover, which would be completely understandable.
Emotionally, he is coming off the highlight of his young hockey career. Getting excited for a regular-season game after playing in the Olympic gold-medal game might be difficult.
Physically, he's probably tired. He did start all but one game for Canada, and all the flying and jet lag is bound to catch up to him.
Then again, there's also the chance that Price could come out and continue to dominate the NHL. His confidence must be at an all-time high and when Price is playing with confidence, there aren't many better goaltenders in the world.
Canadiens fans are certainly hoping that the Price who was on display to the world over the past two weeks is the same one who returns to Montreal. His momentum could help push the Habs forward after the Olympic break.