Montreal Canadiens Have Their Work Cut Out for Them

Nick MurdoccoCorrespondent IApril 7, 2009

UNIONDALE, NY - APRIL 02: Roman Hamrlik #44 of the Montreal Canadiens skates against the New York Islanders on April 2, 2009 at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

It was difficult to determine which version of the Montreal Canadiens was on the ice last night during the eventual 3-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators at the Bell Centre.

At some moments, such as the Mathieu Dandenault goal that lifted Montreal to a come from behind 2-1 lead, you thought that the Habs had regrouped as a team.


Hard work along the boards by Christopher Higgins, maintaining puck possession in the offensive zone, a hard shot from the point with bodies in front of the net—all elements coming together for a winning cause.


Then there were the times when Andrei Markov and Mathieu Schneider's absences were extremely evident. The power play did not look as snappy or as fluid as it had been of late.

The Canadiens were in 27th place in the NHL for power plays prior to the acquisition of Schneider. Leading up to his alleged season-ending injury, the Habs had cracked the top 15. With both co-quarterbacks out of the arsenal, the Canadiens managed to muster only three shots during their combined six minutes of power-play time.


The Hab defenders also appeared very shaky and less confident while on the penalty kill as well, although they did only allow one goal on Ottawa's five chances, including a four-minute major to Ryan O'Byrne, who had just cracked the lineup after a lengthy stint in the press box.


The Canadiens still have their destiny in their own hands this evening as they face off against the New York Rangers. If they beat theRangers in regulation, or if they get one point against New York and the Florida Panthers get no points against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Habs are guaranteed a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs, taking any pressure off their last two games against the Bruins and Penguins.


Anything short of those two aforementioned results and the Canadiens would have to press on until the very last game.


If it is true that both Markov (three weeks) and Schneider (season) are gone, the Habs will have to play better defensively and find the confidence they had on the power play without the services of either defensive pillar.


One wonders if it is not time to throw in the towel on O'Byrne, who is showing that he is just a step behind the NHL pace at this moment. O'Byrne was outplayed on many shifts, and just made it look difficult to keep up to the play. Not to mention the frustrated four minute cross-checking penalty he took that most experienced players may have avoided. 


Why not replace O'Byrne with Mathieu Dandenault? Call up Yanick Weber for his booming shot and just have him let loose on the power play from the point.


I'm sure Gainey is well aware of these options and may or may not choose to exercise them between now and this Saturday. And although he is not the ultimate answer to the Habs defensive woes, I am sure Gainey is also surveying the potential return of one Francis Bouillon.


So is all of Montreal.