The Habs will make a run if they are brilliant with utilizing their depth for Load Management purposes.Sitting in 2nd place in the division, the schedule maker may have given then the opportunity to not just make the playoffs, but go deep. How deep depends on their savvy utilization of their depth to manage the load on their entire roster.
The schedule allowed the Habs the opportunity to play 6 games on the road, followed by a mini break a few more games a break and a few more and a 1 week break. This allowed them to play - analyze; play - analyze and refine and finally analyze and refine and rest before a very tough series of games.
Hopefully they have their desired pattern of play and answers to the moves teams have made to slow them down and suck the life out of their offence. Essentially - Plan A, B and C - because there will be little opportunity for coaching and revising systems and little ability for the players to absorb major changes as they start to become more fatigued.
Fatigue is both physical and mental. The compressed schedule and far greater travel demands than the Atlantic Division teams in the North Division will compound the fatigue factor. With fatigue can come injuries and less than optimal play, bad habits can start to creep into the team's play, confidence can start to be shaken because players can't execute the way they can when they're fresh. Penalties and injuries can pile up. Let's not wait for that to happen - let's manage the load.
Cue the Sports Psych, nutritionists, medical and training staff. The players (and coaches) going through this grinding schedule need to be able to recover and power up again quickly. To put games behind them and focus on the positives. Heavy duty training is out because they don't have the resources to recover and try to build muscle - they are essentially marathon runners not sprinters at this point. They need tools to facilitate this - meditation and breathing exercises to recover and focus on the positives of their games. Pilates/yoga to keep muscles healthy and relaxed - also focus on breathing and relaxation. Nutrition and hydration to prepare and manage them through the grind. Duncan Keith follows a similar type of regime - helped Hawks win a Cup with 3 defensemen and a couple of guys named Who a few years ago.
Cue the depth - great players playing highly competitive games at this frequency will wear down. They will erode slowly at first - 85% - 82% - 79%, but without adequate rest and recovery - they will start to free fall. Game to game may start to see previously unseen levels of decline 10-15% from one game to the next. Recovery at this point becomes exponentially long. Better to put in a somewhat lesser player at closer to 100% than a great player at 70% who is borderline going to free fall.
It is easy to pull a 3rd-pairing D or 4th liner for some R&R (Rest & Recovery) but does someone playing in more limited situations at 13-15 minutes per game need more R&R than an older player who plays 20+ minutes, in all situations against the most challenging opponents? I think not. The old adage is you don't fuss with a winning line-up. That is pre-Pandemic wisdom. This year you'd better figure out how to rest the entire team - older top guys doing 20+ minutes per game right down to the younger guys doing 14 or 15. We've seen the young stars hit a wall (another marathoner reference) late in the season in previous years. Imagine what that could look like this year.
When the team is at home and can dictate match-ups, this is the opportunity to rest the Webers, Petrys, Danaults - in fact the entire team should rotate through at least 1 R&R cycle per every 15-20 games. If you rest Weber for 2 games - you roll Petry/Eddy up to #1 pair and Chariot to #2 with Romanov. You rest Petry and roll Romanov up to the 2nd pair with Eddy. When you rest Chariot and Eddy - Mete or Kulak roll up beside Weber and Petry respectively - or you try Romanov over there to see if he is a good fit now - in the playoffs or even next year. Romanov will need some downtime too. In both cases Kulak or even Fleury come into the mix.
Up front minutes are much less than other teams (especially the top players) but to play the high energy, tenacious forecheck game can really wear a team down. Never mind cheating on shifts - the players should all know and be scheduled for games off to keep them sharp and as close to 100% as possible.
At this point their goalie utilization has been about perfect - Price at 9 games and Allen at 6. Meanwhile: Anderson (Tor) sits at 15 games, Hellebuyck 13 and Markstrom 14. Advantage - Habs
D - top 3 (6,8, 26) are 23.5 to 22 minutes; 44 and 27 about 18.5 and others less than 16 minutes per game. Leafs - top 4 are 23.5, 22 and 21.5 minutes - then drop off to 15 minutes or less; Flames - most balanced 3 around 21 minutes rest between 19 and 16; Jets and Oilers top guy at 24-25, one at 22, one at 21 others between 16-19 minutes. Habs more or less similar to most other North Division teams - so the R&R plan essential to keeping the top 3-5 playing at their best.
Forwards - every other North Division rival uses their top player or handful of players much more than the Habs. Leafs Marner - Matthews 23 and 22 minutes respectively; Oilers top line 22-22.5 each; Jets and Flames - top guy at 21-22 minutes, 3 others at about 19-20 minutes . Habs Suzuki at 18, Toffi at 17, Danault at 16 everyone else 15 or less. Advantage - Habs
This could be a fabulous year, but it all comes down to managing the load by clever use of the depth that Marc has put in place. Coaches, you need to manage your energy and fatigue too! Go Habs Go!!!