Your Montreal Canadiens are not out of the woods yet.
But the wolves aren’t sniffing around a bleeding blue-blanc-rouge carcass … at least for now.
And there’s a glimmer of light off in the distance.
Hands up everyone who thought the Canadiens would take four points in Phoenix and Nashville.
The team is two points out of eighth place. They are five points behind the faltering Leafs, with a game in hand.
Buffalo, which is at the Bell Centre Monday night with a shaken Ryan Miller, is four points up.
Over the next two weeks, the Canadiens play eight games, including two back-to-backs – including a Friday night visit to Philadelphia, followed by a Saturday date with Pittsburgh at the Bell Centre.
There’s also a visit by Boston, two games against Carolina and a trip to the Island.
I don’t want to sound like too much of a drama queen, but this could be the Canadiens’ season right here.
Detroit general manager Ken Holland, who knows a thing or two about hockey, has said you can usually tell the contenders from the pretenders by U.S. Thanksgiving.
This year, the holiday falls on Nov. 24, just before the Canadiens’ two games against the Pennsylvania powerhouses.
If 96 points punches a ticket to the postseason dance, the Canadiens need to take 80 in their remaining 66 games.
Not impossible. And it might even become probable if the team can get a bit of momentum going heading into December.
There were impressive performances against Nashville:
• Peter Budaj, who’s been terrific in his two starts
• the David Desharnais-Max Pacioretty-Erik Cole line, dangerous every time they’re out
• Josh-Gorges and a more controlled P.K. Subban, the Canadiens’ best D pairing
• Hal Gill on the penalty-kill
• Aaron Palushaj, who looked like an NHLer
And hey, no bench minors!
Nagging problems remain.
La Presse’s François Gagnon Tweeted the mind-blowing stat of the night: the Canadiens have scored as many 5-on-4 power-play goals as they’ve allowed shorthanded: Four.
Seven NHL teams have yet to yield a shorthanded goal this season.
Fifteen teams have allowed one.
The tone was set during the season opener in Toronto, when Matthew Lombardi popped a shorty. Zack Smith of Ottawa, Ryan Jones of the Oilers and, in last night’s game, Shea Weber have the others.
But despite the morale-sapping effect of yielding a shorty, the Canadiens have won two of the four games in which it’s happened.
That speaks to the team’s character and resilience.
But the power play has seven goals (and has yielded those four!) in 59 opportunities – and an 11.9 success rate is not going to get them into the postseason.
On L’Antichambre, Vincent Damphousse said the PP needs Andrei Markov, whom he described as the best power-play defenceman in the league. Damphoussewas less effusive on Tomas Plekanec, who he says just doesn’t have the shot to play the point with the man advantage.
The Antichambre gang think Yannick Weber might become an force on the power-play. But he’s young, lacks confidence and cannot provide the consistent bullets from the point the team used to get from Sheldon Souray, Marc-André Bergeron and James Wisniewski.
Also, the absence of Markov and Roman Hamrlik makes the power-play overwhelmingly righthanded. Everything happens on that side of the attack, and opposing PKs are overplaying the Canadiens’ right side with no concern that a Markov or Hamrlik could pinch from the left point.
Oy! These Xs and Os are giving me a migraine.
Weber’s shorty – the only one of Nashville’s 26 shots to beat Peter Budaj – came off a faceoff in the Canadiens’ end. Because whatever ails Scott Gomez prevents him from taking draws, Brian Gionta took the faceoff and lost it to Nick Spaling, who steered the puck back to Ryan Suter.
Gomez skated toward Suter, leaving Weber open to blast one of his patented lasers past Budaj.
The shorty had a predictably energizing effect on the Predators, who went on to a 13-t shot advantage in the second period. Budaj held the fort, the PK killed a 5-on-3 and the Canadiens hung in long enough to Max-Pac to follow Josh Gorges as the road trip’s OT heroes.
A footnote: the Canadiens got Gorges and the draft choice that became Pacioretty in the 2007 trade that sent Craig Rivet to San Jose.
And Sergei Kostitsyn did nothing for Nashville.
• • •
Ryan Miller on Milan Lucic: “Fifty pounds on me, and he runs me like that? It’s unbelievable. … That was gutless. Gutless. Piece of [feces].”