Ten games into the 2008-09 season, and the Montreal Canadiens are in first place in their division, near the league's best in goals scored and allowed, and have gained 17 of a possible 20 points thus far.
And they are far from playing like we know they are capable of.
Saturday's game against the shipwrecked Gilligan's Islanders was a perfect example of this. The Canadiens showed up for the third period, after being totally out of synch for 40 minutes, and snatched a win from the jaws of a defeat that was poised to bite a big embarrassing chunk from their derrieres.
This is not how it supposed to be done.
While many fans are thrilled with such come from behind wins, and term such with words like "character" and "pride", the bottom line is that wins like this aren't good for the team. Proving to themselves that they can defeat an opponant by simply showing up for 20 minutes of hockey, is not the lesson any club should take from a game like this.
It would be more comforting to see the Habs play the first period of a game with this type of intensity from the gate, and then either protect their lead with solid play or continue to steamroll.
Character has more to do with consistency than it has with desperation.
My fear is that there could be pitfalls from winning ugly this way. It tends to give an argument or a free pass to players who spare their effort, coast a little too much, and believe they can pull this rabbit out their hats at any given moment. It is when you start to believe you are too good that players become cocky and arrogant. On the ice, this overconfidence translates into fancy dance passes and individualism.
In truth, last night's Canadiens win speaks more for the Islanders woeful state than it does for anything to do in regards to Montreal.
It is a good that they banked the necessary two points, but this stunt should not be tried against the Red Wings, Sharks or Rangers.
The trouble behind the Canadiens inconsistant play thus far, also happens to be cure for it. The team is deeper in talent than it has been for years. Deep enough in fact, that as much as half the lineup can be playing in the ozone, and it still has enough elements working that it can win. That is as enviable as it is troublesome.
On any given night, it might take only one line clicking to seal a win. Plekanec and Kovalev did it last night. Other games saw the Koivu and Tanguay duo being dominant. Occasionally, as seen last Thursday, it will be special teams and goaltending that pulls it together.
Where this team spins its wheels in the mud, is when it perceives an opponant as being weaker, hence the case with the Islanders. For that matter, one could also suggest that two thirds of the league ought to be easy prey for the Habs. As I see it, that is twenty teams capable of catching the Canadiens off guard on an off night. They were fortunate against the Islanders, in that they are hardly the most confident group of players, even with a three goal lead.
With the amount of talent this group has, it should approaching each contest as though something big is on the line. Turning it on when the game is slipping from their grasp will not do. The killer instinct needs to kick in at the drop of the puck, and not waver when scoring two minutes into the game.
There needs to be a mentality that sets in, that seeks to render opponants helpless right from the start. One that doesn't let up.
A small aside, posted by Linp at Habs Inside Out, that deserves mentioning. It was found on an Islanders message board, I presume.
"Sitting in 324 last night, in the middle of 'Little Montreal', I'm thinking this is gonna blow, listening to the other team's fans all game. Other than Rags games, I've NEVER seen as many opposing fans at an Islander game. After a period or so of listening to them chant, sing, and root passionatly, I realized how much it stinks that we don't have fans like this. No cursing, no "this guy sucks or that guy sucks", no drunken idiots, just a bunch of rabid hockey fans following their team around rooting like crazy (and in French!). Oh, and some extremely hot chicks, too.(what can I say, midway through the 3rd my mind wandered.) I can only guess what games are like up in Montreal. I'd love to see Isles fans show the enthusiasm Habs fans showed last night at our HOME games."
Photos of the Canadiens courtesy of HIO and Jim McIsaac/Getty Images.