With Robert Lang out for the rest of the season, it’s all on Plekanec and Koivu to provide the way they did last season for a Canadiens team that finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
There’s very little doubt that Koivu can provide what’s needed from him to help the Canadiens remain near the top end of the playoff picture, but major doubt as to whether Plekanec can elevate his game from where it currently resides: below the ice he skates on.
For as disappointing as Alex Kovalev’s been at times this season, the issues with Plekanec, who emerged as a star last year, are far more concerning:
A seizure of confidence, a complacent attitude, a willingness to play on the perimeter (not only of the game, but of being good).
And will they keep him around long enough for him to turn it all around? He’s certainly playing like he doesn’t believe so…
And now with Josh Gorges on the sidelines at this crucial point of the season (even if it’s for a game or two, who knows what that hit did to him!?!), who will pick up the slack between Bouillon (who hasn’t been himself this year), Brisebois (who can’t handle the physicality that smaller players in Gorges and Bouillon do on a nightly basis) and Ryan O’Byrne (who hasn’t proven himself to be better than Patrick Traverse was on a horrorshow Canadiens team).
It’s not to say that Koivu, Plekanec, Bouillon, Brisebois, and O’Byrne can’t help keep this team afloat, but they will undoubtedly fail without the support of Higgins and Kovalev, or the Kostitsyn brothers and Pacioretty, and of course Markov, Komisarek, Hamrlik, and most importantly Price.
And that’s the real point. The cards are stacked against them, and though changes may be on the horizon, this team has nowhere to look (not above or below in the standings) other than inward if they hope to find the solution to their losing ways of late.
Last year there were a handful out of hundreds with respected opinions who picked the Canadiens to finish in the post-season. This year the expectation level has gone from "they could be skating for the cup" to "they’ll be lucky to finish in 8th place" all in a matter of weeks.
On a personal note I haven’t enjoyed watching the team that everyone said would do miracles on a nightly basis this year, but I got a real kick out of the one that no one believed in last year.
So while many choose this time (as the Canadiens slide from contention) to identify this team as the one everyone actually expected to fail to make the playoffs last year, I’m optimistic that the lowered expectations will inevitably help this team stay in the playoff fold, and be more successful in the post-season than they were last season.
Although it’s a little lonely here on the glass half-full side of the border…