On our preseason podcast on the 9th of January, I got told.
You see, while we were discussing our expectations for Alex Galchenyuk, I said, basically in passing, that I didn't think the Habs were going to make the playoffs this year. Our guest, the supremely awesome Jay Baruchel, disagreed with me, or at least, my giving up too soon. I got told.
"What are you, Don Cherry?"
Well... no. I'm not, in that I love the Habs, hate the Bruins and Leafs, hate yelling, am not senile or xenophobic, and also I wear mostly grey clothing a lot.
But... if Don Cherry wasn't expecting much from the Habs this year (I don't actually know, has anyone asked him?), then in that regard, yes, I am a little bit like Don Cherry. I was really confident that the Habs would have a very disappointing season. The day before the season started, I wrote a post, the latter half of which was based entirely on my unshakeable belief that the Canadiens were going to finish the season in 11th place in the East, or lower. I'm sure I wasn't alone.
The Habs opened the season with a dismal loss to the Maple Leafs at home. It didn't do much to change anyone's mind.
Then they started winning games. More games than we thought they could.
"Luck," we said.
"Easy schedule," we said.
"Look at their possession stats," the math geeks said.
"What is this team?" we all ask each other.
"I don't know, man," used to be the answer but now it's more like "a good team."
It's still hard to believe, in that "good things don't happen to us anymore" kind of way.
As of last night, the Montreal Canadiens have played half of their regular season games, and sit in first place in the Eastern Conference. Higher than every team that finished ahead of them last season, although the Bruins are one point back and have three games in hand [sidebar: doesn't it seem like every fucking year the fucking Boston Bruins always have like three or four or fucking five fucking games in hand all year aaaaaaa]. They are missing two key players, and, up until recently, P.K. Subban wasn't even being used enough. And they're still winning games (for more on how, ask one of the smart guys on this site, not me).
Confession time: I didn't believe until last weekend that the Habs were going to make the playoffs. Good things don't happen to us anymore. The numbers are there, the results are there, and yet my default gut feeling setting is constantly set at heartbreak. Humiliating, embarrassing, painful heartbreak. Isn't that how sports work? The Habs were going to show promise, and then fall into a downward spiral and finish just out of playoff position while Leafs fans and Bruins fan looked on and laughed.
I believe now. They won't finish in first, the Bruins are too good for that to happen. Boston's huge crisis right now is that they aren't perfectly happy with their third line. Meanwhile they have two first lines, both of which are better than most first lines in the league. They have such problems, eh? Anyway. The Habs won't finish in first (YEAH I SAID IT COME AT ME BRO). They'll most likely finish in fourth, fifth, or maybe sixth. Most people I ask go with fourth, but second in point totals.
Is that an unreasonable expectation? I don't know anymore. Habs fans' biggest challenge now is to learn to manage our expectations - not to lose our heads completely after every loss (pro tip: we failed this test after Tuesday's game), and not to expect too much all at once. It's like once we start believing they're a good team, all of a sudden we start seeing visions of a Stanley Cup win (with a curbstomping of the Bruins on the way, naturally). "This could be our year," we start thinking.
As much as I want to caution against that thought... fuck that.
Whether or not this is their year, this team is good. It really is.
Let's enjoy it.