They say the difference between good and great is consistency. By that definition, the Montreal Canadiens are a good hockey team.
It’s easy to say that after back-to-back losses to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets that the Canadiens are worse than good. It’s easy to say that the loss of Brendan Gallagher and Carey Price is just too much to overcome.
Those people simply aren’t paying attention.
The Canadiens didn’t lose because they were missing Price and Gallagher. It could be argued that they would have helped, but both games, especially Thursday’s 4-2 loss to Winnipeg, were there for the taking.
Bad teams don’t outshoot the opponent 29-15 through two periods, or 38-27 overall. The Canadiens are a good team, but mistakes cost them again on Thursday. Again they allowed a goal in the first minute. They responded for the second straight night, but that just goes to show the inconsistency they have portrayed throughout the season.
The good news is that the players know where they need to be better. Jake Allen said that his performance in the first period was unacceptable. Shea Weber and Phillip Danault didn’t want to hear any excuses — whether it be missing players, the schedule, or anything else.
Not using excuses doesn’t mean it’s excusable. This is a team that has high expectations from the top down. They have gone through a coaching change. They have added a veteran centre in Eric Staal.
There were times when a Gallagher injury or a Price injury have derailed their season. We have seen it happen before. This team is built to withstand that. That’s why they brought in Josh Anderson, or Tyler Toffoli. It’s why they brought in Jake Allen.
The players are right to not use the injuries as an excuse because it simply shouldn’t be one. They played good enough to win the last two games without their two missing leaders. It’s not even about playing mistake-free hockey. That’s an impossible standard to maintain. The issue is the consistency from game to game, from period to period, and even from shift to shift. Whether it’s not moving their legs in the first period in Toronto, or not using their heads in the first period against Winnipeg, those things don’t happen to great teams.
It’s what is keeping this good team from taking the next step. Everyone knows this team can be great because they have shown it for stretches this season. It’s up to them to show it again.