A Breath of Fresh Air

The Habs were mired in a tremendous slump for the month of December. Will they be able to use the energy from the Winter Classic to turn things around?

For the Montreal Canadiens, reconciling the opposing forces of the Winter Classic must be difficult.

There's the lighter side; that atmosphere of outdoor games that suggests childlike freedom, a return to the its roots, to where we all started with hockey: the sharp curl of a skate carving the ice, the puff of frozen breath evaporating in front of your face. Those oft-repeated and cherished sensations: the first few strides onto the open ice; looking up at the wide sky; drinking in the cold air, fresh and new every time. Hockey in its purest form.

But for the Habs, there's a darkness permeating their arrival in Boston. Coming off the worst December in team history, punctuating a heretofore successful season with an ugly eleven losses in twenty-nine days, the Habs are stumbling into Boston like a bedraggled drunk.

It's possible that a day outside is precisely what the Canadiens need to find their game. The event is structured as a palette cleanser - a reminder of what hockey can be, and that, even at its highest level, the game is fundamentally the same as the one our children enjoy on local ponds across the globe.

The Habs need to walk that line, to approach the game as a serious opportunity to earn two points and, in doing so, to re-focus. There's good reason that a team beset by losing usually returns to the fundamentals. Those ideas are channelled into the cliches that have become so familiar over the course of the last month: We need to move our feet. We need to start out strong. We need to play our game.

The Habs' recent decline in play - exemplified by their listless appearance in Florida, in spite of a strong effort from Scrivens - speaks to a team that has started to buy into the hollow truths of their recent record. However for much of December the Habs played well, outchancing their opponents but becoming undone by an inability to finish.

That's not the case anymore. The inability to finish remains, but the chances have gone down, and suddenly the Habs issue looks like it's as much between the ears as it is on the ice.The team is lacking not only in energy, but in positivity, and one sour play seems enough to but the game out of reach.

It's clear something needs to change. The addition of Brendan Gallagher back into the lineup will help, following weeks rehabilitating three broken fingers in an injury that coincided with the onset of the slump. The forward's energetic style should provide some much needed jump - Therrien calls it "jam" - that ought to get the Habs going if the atmosphere alone isn't sufficient.

So with the media circus surrounding them, the Habs need to use that atmosphere to revitalize their play and their outlook. But they also need to keep in mind that every subsequent game this season - indoors, against rivals and non-rivals alike - is just as important.

The obvious metaphor of the clean sheet looms large. It's the first day of the New Year, and tradition calls for us all to look at ourselves and make changes. The Habs need to breathe deep. They need to embrace that change, one game at a time.

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