Down to the Wire

The Montreal Canadiens have taken their first strides into the second half of a very long NHL season. So far, they’ve done well by racking up 58 points in 43 games (26-11-6). In order to finish at, or near, the top, Les Boys will have to get healthy – stay healthy – and go on a serious tear down the stretch.

I’ve put the Habs remaining 39 games through a quantum matrix and have determined that Carbo’s kids will have to earn another 55-60 points to realistically battle the big bad Bruins for top spot in the Eastern Conference.

And looking at their schedule for the back end – it’s not going to be easy.

Including tonight’s tango with the Senators, the Habs have 39 games remaining in the NHL’s 2008-09 regular season. If they continue to win at the same rate as they did in the first half, the Habs will finish with around 110 points. Pretty good, eh? Not good enough if Boston also keeps up their pace – they could earn somewhere around 130 points. The Bruins, however, have been playing maybe too well and it will be hard for them to keep that pace up – especially if the have to deal with more injuries to their line-up. If, for argument’s sake, Boston cools down just a bit and finish with 115-120 points, I think the Habs have a good chance at catching them.

My fearful prediction: the Habs have to go 27-8-4 the rest of the way – including winning both remaining games against Boston – if they want to pass the boys down in Beantown.

27 wins in 39 games? That’s a win percentage of almost 70%.

Can they do it?
The Habs have 18 home games left and they need to win most of them. The Bell Centre has been pretty friendly this year, so I can see that happening. It’s the 21 road games that don’t look so easy. I’m especially concerned with the entire month of February. Except for two easy games against Toronto and Ottawa (which are never easy), the Habs will be up against some tough opponents.

Starting on February 9th in Calgary, the Habs will be battling it out on a tough 6-game road trip. After the Flames, the Habs visit:

Feb. 11 – Edmonton
Feb. 13 – Colorado
Feb. 15 – Vancouver
Feb. 18 – Washington
Feb. 19 – Pittsburgh.

Tough, with a capital F.

To finish off the month the Habs will go up against the Canucks again, this time at home, and then play back-to-back – a game in Philly on the 27th and then another in Montreal the next day against the bigger, badder Sharks.

March is a bit easier of a schedule – after 3 on the road, they’ll finish up the month with 9 of 10 on home ice.

April will be exciting with 6 games – only two of which, however, will be played in Montreal. On the 2nd, the Habs visit Long Island; the 4th, Toronto; and then back at home on the 6th to take on Ottawa – all three teams will be looking to play the spoiler. After the game against the Senators, the Habs will have to head out immediately to the Big Apple for a tilt the next day against the Rangers – a team we could be easily match-up against in the playoffs. Two nights later, on the 9th, it’ll be a battle for first when the Habs visit the TD Banknorth Garden. The regular season will come to a close with fan appreciation night on April 11th, when we host the Penguins – another conceivable post-season match-up.

Some other games of note:
Jan. 27th – in Tampa, 19:30
Feb. 01 – Boston, 14:00 (we host the Kings 24 hours earlier)
Feb. 07 – Toronto, 19:00(Mikhail vs Sergei, Round Three)
Feb. 24 – Vancouver, 19:30 (Practice your boos for this one)
Feb. 27 – in Philadelphia (I really want to stick it to the Flyers)
Feb. 28 – San Jose, 19:00 (True test)
Mar. 21 – Toronto, 19:00 (Mikhail vs Sergei, Round Four?)
Mar. 31 – Chicago, 19:30 (Not necessarily an important game, but should be a helluva fun one to watch)

I have faith in this team and I think it’s reasonable that they do better in the final 40 games compared to what we’ve seen so far. The powerplay is starting to heat up, Saku Koivu, Chris Higgins, Alex Tanguay, and Carey Price should all be healthy by early February, and guys like Alex Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec are starting to heat up.

27-8-4 down the stretch.
53-19-10 for the season.
116 points in total.
First in the East.

Think they have it in them?
I do.

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