Habs Need to Turn the Page, and 5 Key Elements for 2012

"No matter how good or bad a call it is, you can’t let it affect you" - Erik Cole, Dec 29 2011

The Montreal Canadiens get one last kick at the can to straighten out the year 2011. After last night's dismal outcome against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Habs play their final game of the year against the Florida Panthers on Saturday.

Right now, things do not look at all promising for le Bleu, Blanc et Rouge in terms of a playoff spot in 2012. Yes, there is lots of hockey to play (44 games), but the boys are amongst a pack of teams from 6th to 15th, separated by 11 points. All but one of those teams, the Carolina Hurricanes, has played more games than them. That leaves several clubs with as many as three games in hand.

Can they do it? Well yes, of course. We have to be optimistic here. After all, teams can and have done it before and will do it again.

Last night's game was a game won on paper by the Habs, but throw in some oddities such as the J.T. Wyman and Marc-Andre Bergeron goals and a hot goalie in Mathieu Garon and this is what you get. It's hard to knock Carey Price for one bad game on the season, especially considering he kept them in a deceivingly lopsided win against the Senators on Tuesday.

The Habs played very well in the first two periods, but much like a broken record this season, things did fall apart in the third and they gave up a two-goal lead.

Best thing for them to do is put the loss behind them and move forward to Saturday's game. Like I said there is still lots of hockey to be played, so let's not jump ship just yet.

To get out of the cellar dweller pack and into a playoff spot, where anything can and does happen, I've put my list of elements needed to make this happen. Take in mind I am merely an armchair GM, just like the rest of you.

1. A healthy 2012: The Canadiens have yet to see the light of Andrei Markov and Ryan White this season. We already know about Markov and what his absence means on the blue line, so no need to really divulge further. Upswing to No. 79's healthy return is that it gives Pierre Gauthier some bargaining chips in Chris Campoli and maybe Yannick Weber come trade deadline time.

White is expected back some time in January and, provided he's 100%, can make a huge impact on the fourth line. In 27 games last season, he had 70 hits and was plus-5.

The Canadiens desperately need Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez's presence back on the ice.While Gomez is more a behind the scenes influence, Gionta's leadership is a tremendous loss. We saw the same thing happen in Montreal in 2009, when the then co-alternate captain missed half of November and all but three games in December.

2. A better travel schedule: Well they get that in 2012, even though the game count is 23 at home and 21 on the road.

January is an opportunity for the Habs to recharge with just three road games (one pair back-to-back), and the All-Star Break over the weekend of the 21st. Six of their 11 opponents are in that 6 through 15 pack, so if there was a chance to benefit from a turnaround, January would be it. I wouldn't be surprised to see Carey Price get every start in the first month of 2012.

February is a split month, that practically is an every other game day, ending with a three-game road trip.

March will be the big test . It holds the team's final extended road trip (four games), that includes three games in Western Canada. They also play three sets of Friday-Saturday games in the final three weekends of that month,

The Canadiens only have six games left against Western opponents, so they have lots of ample four-point game opportunities. Thirteen of their games in 2012 are against Northeast Division competition.

3. A solid faceoff man: While Petteri Nokelainen is doing an admirable job on the fourth line, the other three centers are struggling below fifty percent. In fact ,no top-three line center has surpassed fifty-one percent in the past two seasons. While it was no as big a deal in those seasons, where everything else was clicking sufficiently, that will not cut it for the remaining three months of the season, given the position the Canadiens are in.

If Scott Gomez can return, that does give the Habs a pair of regular 50-50 guys in the dots (Tomas Plekanec being the other). If he can't anytime soon, does Pierre Gauthier look for a Dominic Moore, Eric Belanger type player to strengthen things up the middle? Without question, yes.

4. Playing smart and consistent: The injury issue, in light of who is hurt, has to be over-sighted by the healthy players on the team. Countless players, past and present have shown the ability to play through adversity and injuries.

This group is more than capable of doing it, with the level of talent they have, but has only shown it in glimpses or clusters. If every player played at least three of four shifts shifts like Erik Cole does almost every shift now, the team's record would be far better than what we see now.

5. A real fast learning curve for RC: Randy Cunneyworth essentially got the coaching job thrust down his throat with the unnecessary removal of Jacques Martin. While his record doesn't look great at 1-5, he did give the team's fourth line a vote of confidence by upping their TOI in his first two games. The trio is back to realistic minutes and playing as a fourth line needs to play. It can only get better with White's return.

His decision to bench both P.K. Subban and Lars Eller on the same night, well that did take some balls. Though they lost that game, he sent a message that he treats all his player equally.Mike Cammalleri appears to be getting and responding to that message.

Now the downside is that Cunneyworth will need that big turnaround to get this team into the playoffs and give him any chance at the full-time gig. He knows it and, unfortunately for him, so do his players. If they follow suit and step up in their performances, it could be a win-win for both. But RC needs to find a way to maintain it over a course of several games, and fast.

Roster update from Friday's practice: J.F Chaumont tweeted that there were no line changes, or defensive pairing adjustments, made the team's Friday Practice.

Post game links and other worthy reads

Advanced Stats: Shift Charts / Head to Head / Corsi & Fenwick

Dome Hockey Team

The Numbers Game

Winning reactions at Raw Charge

Erik Engels 10 questions

Olivier Bouchard on the absence of Scott Gomez

Chris Boucher on Jarred Tinordi's first WJC game

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