While many are allowing panic to set in with each disturbing loss this team suffers, there are a couple of reasons to be optimistic. The fact that it’s only November should be enough to calm people down a bit and allow this team to search itself for the answers on how to get back to a winning formula.
Everyone is sizing this team up in the image of it’s predecessor; a dominant Canadiens group that shocked the hockey world and finished atop the East. While some believe it was an unblemished campaign towards the playoffs, executed with flawless precision, there was a bump in the road right around mid-November into early December.
Through 17 games this year the Canadiens have gone 10-5-2, accumulating 22 points. Last season, after the 17-game mark, the Habs were 10-4-3, for a grand total of 23 points. Last year around this time, they struggled to find chemistry, and a winning formula. They went 4-7-2 in their next 13 games. In that period, while Guy Carbonneau was shaking up the lines and trying to figure things out, Bob Gainey was looking for solutions within the franchise. Maxim Lapierre and Ryan O’byrne were called up.
December 12th, the Canadiens flew into Philadelphia after dismal losses to Carolina and Tampa Bay. When they got to the city of brotherly love, newest call-up Sergei Kostitsyn was waiting for them at the rink.
I remember the game (on the 13th) vividly, as it was the very first game I ever had a press credential for. I remember walking into the Wachovia Centre, and stepping into the front row of the lower bowl as the Canadiens took to the ice for their morning skate.
I’ve never watched anything so attentively in my life. I had waited so long for the opportunity to do what I was doing, and I was going to enjoy every second of it. I sat and conversed with Pat Hickey, and I couldn’t help remark how loose the team was, after such a rough period of the season. Every interview with the players at that point ended with "It’s not fun coming to the rink when you’re losing". So when I saw this Canadiens team hit the ice for their morning skate, and I saw them laughing and teasing each other with every nice breakaway goal, I realized that this might be the exact thing they needed, in order to snap out of it.
The skate ended, with smiles all around, and everyone left the ice except for Kirk Muller, Rollie Melanson, and Michael Ryder. For the next ten minutes Muller stood in the corner, and Melanson behind the net, and they took turns feeding Ryder in the slot for one-timers. He missed the open net with at least 50% of his shots. It was clear…Sergei Kostitsyn was going to play.
The Habs beat the Flyers 4-1 that night. After that game the Canadiens went 10-4-3, until they strolled into Jersey, and recorded their first win of the season when trailing after 1, or 2 periods. That was right around the time that everyone realized this team was for real…January 24th–game 49 of the season.
The Canadiens don’t look like a cup-contender right now. In fact they don’t look like a playoff team right now. But before you jump off the Champlain Bridge, realize that a loosy-goosy morning skate could help them regain form. Remember that the mighty Canadiens of last year were a playoff question mark at the halfway point of the season.
The recent trends are more than disturbing. By all accounts, the additions to this year’s club were supposed to put them over the top. Right now, this team is as fragile as a Faberge Egg made of glass, but a couple of convincing victories, and reversing a few trends (something they were so good at last season) could bring them right back to where they were, where everyone expects them to be.
Be prepared! Things might get worse before they get better, but they will get better. Bob Gainey’s overly public pursuit of Mats Sundin this summer was an indication that this Canadiens team was going for a Stanley Cup, this year. The administration of this team won’t let a demoralizing losing skid keep them from going after their goal. They will not be complacent. They will search for answers from within, and if they don’t work, they’ll search for answers through trade. The administration of this team will not accept anything short of a playoff berth.
As fans, right now’s the time to sit back and let nature take it’s course. Don’t rush to judgement about this team. If they persevere through the adversity they’re facing right now, they might just give you a pleasant surprise.
For those of you who continue to call the post-game show, and rant about how the Canadiens are going to miss the playoffs…breathe. It ain’t over, we’re just getting started.
Here’s a link to the article from Dec. 13, 2007:
And here’s a link to the post-game blog after the Canadiens won in Philly that night: