Montreal Canadiens: 10 Keys to Success For the NHL Playoffs
The NHL postseason is just around the corner, and the Montreal Canadiens are in relatively good standing in the Eastern Conference at sixth place. No, they haven't qualified yet, but at this point, I like their odds.
It's been a grueling season with several key injuries, but this team has battled through the adversity. This adversity could be a blessing in disguise come playoff time. Having a battle tested squad is vital for a deep playoff run.
I've decided to examine some important factors that the team needs to focus on in order to succeed in the playoffs.
Let's have a look, shall we?
10. Scott Gomez
Scott Gomez is not the player that I thought he was.
After a dismal second season with the New York Rangers, I had this romantic idea that Gomez would reignite his career when he joined the Habs, along with his former teammate, Brian Gionta.
I was wrong—I'll be the first to admit it.
In his first season with the Habs, he was average. This season, he's been downright awful.
But, there is a bright spot: That magical time of year we call the playoffs!
Last postseason, Gomez registered 14 points in the 19 games the Habs played.
In his career, he's managed 95 points in 133 playoff appearances.
Gomez takes his game up a notch when the games mean more.
He may have to take his game up a few notches this time, but let's go with it!
9. Andrei Kostitsyn and Lars Eller
Since Lars Eller moved to center on a line with Andrei Kostitsyn, the two have began to click offensively.
Kostitsyn has been a much a better player when skating with Eller; it's as if he's a man reborn. In the past five games, AK46 has scored three goals and added four assists.
Eller is gaining some confidence in his new NHL role as a centerman, which is his natural position. He is a big-bodied presence and is difficult to take off the puck off him.
If the two can carry their play into the postseason, the Canadiens may have a dangerous weapon that is hard to defend against: a third line that can score.
8. First-Line Presence
If the first line on a team is working well, the other lines will be given more of a chance to flourish. That's basic hockey knowledge—I'm not saying anything new.
During the Canadiens run to the Conference Finals a year ago, Mike Cammalleri registered an astounding 19 points. It was his offensive prowess that gave the team's secondary scorers an opportunity to chip in (like the aforementioned Gomez). He has the capacity to do it again.
Tomas Plekanec wasn't as impressive on the scoresheet (11 points). If he was, the line would have been dominant.
Tomas Plekanec and Michael Cammalleri must be the Montreal Canadiens top forwards.
7. Max Pacioretty
Max Pacioretty has been on a veritable tear as of late. If the kid can keep up the pace and continue to score at this clip, he will be a dangerous part of the Canadiens' second line in the playoffs.
Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta were not given much to work with in last year's postseason, yet still managed to put up some great numbers. With the emergence of Max Pacioretty, their line is a legitimate threat to the opposition—that is, of course, if Scott Gomez picks up where he left off last year.
The last "power forward' the Canadiens had during a playoff run was John Leclaire: does anybody remember how he did?
6. P.K. Subban
There is no question that P.K. Subban is, far and away, the Habs' best defenseman. With Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges injured, Subban must continue his high level of play come playoff time.
It is almost a certainty that he will be leading the team in ice-time. Will he be up to the task?
He has to be if the Canadiens hope to have any chance.
Roman Hamrlik is already tired, Hal Gill is getting there and James Wisniewski is not very impressive in his own end.
Paul Mara and Brent Sopel are both sixth/seventh defenseman, they cannot be counted on too heavily.
Jaroslav Spacek isn't guaranteed to come back, and even if he does, he'll probably be rusty after not playing for an extended period of time.
Yannick Weber is the wild-card here. He has the legs, but does he have the ability to be counted on when the stakes are so high?
That leaves us with Subban, the phenom from last year's run.
We've seen him step up before—he'll have to do it again.
The Canadiens need to find a way to stay out of the box.
We've seen the Habs' penalty-killing percentage drop significantly over the past couple of months. The Habs had the top PK in the league in January, but have since dropped to 10th in the NHL.
The free-fall must stop.
Hopefully, the acquisition of Brent Sopel will solidify the PK.
More importantly, if the Canadiens could manage to stay out of the box, their percentage would certainly improve. It's quite difficult to kill off an exorbitant amount of penalties per game, a recent trend.
The time on the PK is tiring out the players that need to perform at even-strength, notably Tomas Plekanec.
He needs to be fresh—the whole team does.
It's very important that they play smart from here on out.
4. Team Chemistry
All of the lines have to mesh. We have seen some shuffling this season, but I feel that this team has finally come together.
If, for some reason, the lines stop working, another shuffle would have to be in order.
That would be a disaster.
The players need to feed off of one another's energy and stick together come playoff time.
They've all heard the criticism from the overzealous Montreal media, and have managed to battle through as a team.
When asked about his squad after the trade deadline by Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette, Brian Gionta was quoted as saying "You know they can get the job done. Just because there were no big moves doesn't mean you're not making a push. We're confident in the group we have."
That confidence is key.
3. The Power Play
With Andrei Markov's absence, the Canadiens' power play was in dire need of some assistance. It was a complete and utter mess.
Thankfully, Pierre Gauthier remedied the issue by acquiring James Wisniewski from the New York Islanders.
Currently, the Habs sit in eighth place in power play percentage, at 19.3%—it seems to be on the mend.
Plekanec on the point could prove to be an interesting experiment. If it can get him going, then all systems go.
Speaking of systems...
2. "The System"
The players must adhere to coach Jacques Martin's system: it is the only way in which they win games.
Yes, I know, it's boring hockey, but a win is a win.
It's tough to like Jacques Martin at times, but he has won quite a few games in his day.
Execute short passes, skate as a team, and come back defensively. Limit the opposition's shots and capitalize on turnovers.
The centerpiece of "The System" is "The Goalie."
He also happens to be the most important key to the Canadiens' success.
1. Carey Price
Last year, Jaroslav Halak was the Montreal Canadiens' superstar during their magical postseason run. His numbers were surreal and it's widely believed he was the only reason the Canadiens made it as far as they did. The argument is pretty valid, Halak was playing out of his mind.
Carey Price was relegated to the bench. He watched as his once-backup took center-stage and shone. Not once did he look upset.
He bided his time.
Halak was traded during this past offseason, much to many Habs' fans chagrin. "How could you trade the best player we had in the playoffs?" they asked.
Carey Price has been the Habs' best player this season, bar none. He has stolen a countless amount of games thus far, leading the team to a winning record and silencing his critics.
If he carries this play into the postseason, why couldn't he match Halak's performance from last year?
If the Canadiens have any chance at victory, he's going to have to come close.