A large part of the discussion these past few weeks have been around how the Montreal Canadiens are handling the loss of two of their top players. But what about the fans? How are they coping without their world-class goaltender, Carey Price, and their hardest-working right-winger, Brendan Gallagher?
Some people love the Canadiens regardless of who's on the ice. It's their team. 'Til death. Others love the Habs because of the players.
Last season, the Canadiens were lucky with their healthy team and lack of serious injuries. But the 2015-16 season has hit like a tonne of bricks, with five players missing time with injuries since October. This doesn't include Max Pacioretty, who injured his knee over the summer and was down for the count for 12 weeks. The fans were already sent into a panic about one of their best players' health before the season even started.
With just two months into the season, they've lost two major players due to injuries at the same time. How are the fans withstanding the loss? Is it no big deal, as long as their team is staying on top? Or are they hanging on by a thread?
When Carey Price was first injured at the beginning of November, there was a collective gasp by Habs fans before they held their breath and waited for an update on their
superhero netminder. The result was a lower-body injury that took him out for eight games. When he returned three weeks later, it was like the refresh button had been pressed. Fans were ecstatic. On November 20, Price took his rightful place between the pipes. All was right in the hockey world.
Then Brendan Gallagher blocked a shot, just one game after Price's return. And Habs fans held their breath once again. He'll be back next period. He'll be fine. It's Gallagher, nothing keeps him down. The outcome was two broken fingers, surgery and an estimated four-to-six-week recovery period. Fans took a deep breath, shook it off and said, "At least we've still got Price."
The following game, on November 25, the fans' sanity was tested once again. Price had re-aggravated his injury and would be out for six more weeks. How much more could they take? This three game roller-coaster of "we're doomed; we're fine; we're doomed again" was taking its toll.
Now that the initial shock has worn off, the consensus seems to be that at least this year the Canadiens are proving that they are more than just Carey Price. They have no choice. Holding on to their first-place spot in the Atlantic Division allowed some room for error, but the gap is quickly closing now that they've hit a four-game losing streak.
The confidence that both the fans and team have when Price is backing them still lingers in the air. And it's not hard to see that Gallagher's spunk, energy, and scoring ability are missing on the ice.
Backup goalies Mike Condon and Dustin Tokarski have been doing their best in Price's absence, but are unable to match Price's 2.06 GAA, .934 SV% and 10-2-0-2 record.
And although Michel Therrien has been frantically changing lines, using every called-up scoring option at his disposal, Gallagher's 19 points (9 G, 10 A) in just 22 games is equally tough to replace.
There is absolutely nothing we, the fans, can do but wait and cross the days off the calendar until two of the team's best players return. And then we can let out a big sigh of relief because, once again, all will be right in hockey world.