Can we spend a few moments talking about the Southeast Division? With the Canadiens defeating the Jets last night, Washington took over the division lead with 38 points. Washington is going to have home ice advantage in the playoffs if they hold onto their spot. By points, they shouldn't even be in the playoffs.
The best thing about the incoming realignment is the abolishing of this division of garbage. It's entirely possible, even plausible, that a better team like New Jersey, or one of the New York teams will miss the playoffs with more points than the team that wins the Southeast because the NHL is married to the idea of division winners being guaranteed home ice.
The futility of the Southeast Division plays a heavy part in the Canadiens' 11-0-0 record against them this season, but perhaps even more impressive than going undefeated against the Southeast, Montreal is now 6-1-1 on the second half of back to back games.
Michel Therrien had "no excuses" put above the door to the locker room this season, and while that kind of stuff is mostly for show, the performance of the team in a shortened, compressed season, especially in back-to-back situations, has shown this attitude has been taken to heart.
Meanwhile, the team the Canadiens face next never stops making excuses. On a recent stretch with fewer wins than normal, Claude Julien complained about the rigours of the schedule six different times in a single press conference. Keep in mind that Boston has one of the lightest travel schedules in the NHL, and is tied for the fewest games played in the Eastern Conference so far this year.
Two of those back-to-back situations came against the Bruins, in Boston, both wins.
But let's talk about last night's game. With Tomas Plekanec out, pressure was put on Lars Eller to perform his role. Eller displayed excellent hockey sense all night, and he capitalized on the powerplay twice, setting up Michael Ryder and Brian Gionta.
Eller's work on the powerplay has been otherworldly this season, and it's about time that the coach recognizes this. After last night's game, Eller is producing at close to a 15 points per 60 minutes clip on the PP. Is it sustainable? No, but his production there is leaps and bounds ahead of David Desharnais, who gets more than 2 extra minutes of powerplay time per game.
From a possession standpoint, the game was pretty ugly, but I can honestly say from being in the stands, that it never felt like the Jets were able to do much. The got shots off, but not many dangerous ones, and the ones that got to the net, Peter Budaj handled pretty easily, in his usual spazzy way.
Budaj is now riding a 6 game personal winning streak, the longest of his career. The better he plays, the more Habs fans want to re-sign him, but I'm beginning to wonder if he may play himself into too expensive of a contract for what the Canadiens want moving forward. Hopefully that isn't the case, as he seems to love his role here. He's been the best Slovak goalie in the NHL this year.
Alex Galchenyuk's progression has been a delight to witness this season. A lot of people who just look at boxscores think he's been struggling for the last month, but it's really been a case of bounces. Galchenyuk is generating chances at an excellent rate, and last night he wowed the crowd on multiple occasions, then finally busted his goal slump to put the Canadiens up 4-1.
The first star of the night though, was Michael Ryder, who just refuses to stop scoring. He took over the goalscoring lead on the team, now up to 15, and hasn't looked out of place since his first two games back with the Habs. He may be playing himself into a hefty contract this summer, but he's another player that I really wouldn't mind seeing back. I would certainly rather take him than someone like Clowe.
With Ryder's 3 point night, the Canadiens now have a trio of players at the 30 point mark, the most impressive of them all being young P.K. Subban, who has to be the leading candidate for the Norris Trophy this season. Subban leads all defensemen in goals, points, and powerplay points, and is now tied with Brandon Prust for the team lead in +/- with a +12 rating in 31 games.
Check out the view from the opposing side at Arctic Ice Hockey.