Their poor play isn't a secret anymore. The Habs have been in choppy waters for a couple of months now, but Saturday night's debacle at the Bell Centre blew the lid off any doubts that the Habs were in more than a rut. The stats from that horrific affair have been played out out so many times in the following days that there's no need to repeat them. The Canadiens embarrassed themselves, and now they're left to try to pick themselves up. Canadiens fans need not fear, however - the Montreal Canadiens are going to win tonight, and I'm going to tell you why.
Their opponents tonight, the Carolina Hurricanes, are in some ways the poster boys from the Habs recent stretch of poor work. The Habs, third in their division and fourth in the conference, not to mention eight points above the nearest non-playoff challenger, headed to Raleigh for a New Year's Eve clash with the 'canes.
Montreal earned a 3-0 lead by the midway point of the second period, and held it going into the second intermission. Carolina pounced almost immediately after the break, however, taking advantage of a flurry of early powerplays to jump in front 4-3. The Canadiens would salvage a single point when a P.K. Subban goal tied the game late, but the Habs would ultimately fall when Alexander Semin scored in overtime.
The game, on it's own, was frustrating. In the context of the inconsistency the Habs had displayed going in, it was concerning. In the context of what has unfolded since that game, it was symbolic.
The Canadiens have broken down, and have been mauled in four consecutive games. Their season has gone from promising, to inconsistent, to a disaster. Their once significant advantage in the playoff race has evaporated, as the Habs are now only three points (and a game in hand) away from falling out of the playoffs. With the Bruins on the horizon, the time is now to collect a critical two points.
The Hurricanes are still a middle-of-the-road squad that the Habs should be able to beat, but that's not to say they don't have their redeeming qualities. Taking advantage of a deep top six, the Hurricanes have reunited their erstwhile top line of Eric Staal, Jiri Tlusty, and Semin. In their last six games, the trio has gone off for a combined twenty points, posing a serious challenge to P.K. Subban and whoever becomes the newest member of Montreal's currently non-existent top pair.
Graduating to the second line is first round pick Elias Lindholm, who completes a line with Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner. While that line hasn't offered much offence lately, the talented and versatile group has the potential to strike, especially against Montreal's recently brutal defence corps. In fact, anyone who watched the Habs blow up against the Hurricanes at the end of 2013 will recall that Skinner is more than capable of a goal or two.
Thankfully, for Montreal fans, the bottom of Carolina's forward squad is weak, which should offer the Habs an advantage. Michel Therrien has had difficulty getting goals out of any of his lines, but in theory, it should be almost impossible to line-up a bottom six weaker than what the Hurricanes can ice. Of course, theory and reality have proven to be two very different things in recent Habs history.
The Canadiens are catching them less than 24 hours after facing off against Columbus Blue Jackets, which should be another advantage. The Habs may also be able to break the Hurricanes unremarkable defencemen, where a newly emancipated John-Michael Liles is among the top four.
In spite of all that's transpired, there's no reason to look at tonight's matchup with a negative attitude.With a half decent effort, two hours and thirty minutes of welcome respite from this weary drama shouldn't be too much to ask. The Habs could come away with two points in the standings, and a little shred of hope that the playoffs might lie in the future.
With more of the same, the Habs will get stomped, and the City of Montreal will be one night closer to the end of Michel Therrien's miserable tenure. Montreal is going to win tonight, because they can't lose.
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