Standing: 6th overall
According to CBC Sports, the Montreal Canadiens had a 98.8% chance of making the playoffs going into Tuesday’s game against the Dallas Stars, their first after the All Star break. The Habs won the game 3-2 and are now 7-2-1 in their last ten games.
Despite that the Habs are 3rd in the Atlantic Division, many have questions about the team’s chances going forward. Possession numbers are still a concern. While many credit goaltender Carey Price’s level of play, like Tuesday’s 40 save performance, for the team’s 63 points in the standings.
Still, the Habs have shown time and again this season that they can compete with the best; and they are still in the hunt for the Eastern Conference title.
What brought them here? Price is one reason. He has masked many of the team’s flaws. Yet team chemistry is another reason and one that continues to develop as the season trucks on.
Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin made a couple of significant moves in November to bring the team to its current roster. Within nine days Bergevin traded rugged forward Travis Moen, in exchange for veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar, and fair weather forward René Bourque for defenseman Bryan Allen.
The moves were smart in terms of cap space but the media was quick to point out that veteran additions are not enough to propel the Habs deep into the post-season. This may be so, but both trades have helped develop chemistry on defense.
Allen has since been sent to the Hamilton Bulldogs, which in turn freed up a space on the blue line for Nathan Beaulieu. Beaulieu, at 22 years, is now playing upwards of 20 minutes a game alongside Gonchar in his longest stint to date with the big club. He’s surely here to stay and the more he learns from Gonchar before the playoffs, the better.
Gonchar and Beaulieu are just one example of the chemistry that has developed within the team over the course of the season. Gallagher and Galchenyuk are all but inseparable at this point, though the numbers aren’t quite as high as expected. Lars Eller, Jiri Sekac and Brandon Prust know how to create chances and can work on finishing the same over the final 36 games.
It is evident that the 2014-2015 edition of the Habs enjoy playing together. Bergevin has found the right pieces to build a strong team; and one that works hard. However, the Habs still need help if they want to compete against the NHL’s elite hockey clubs in the post-season.
Thomas Vanek and Bourque were key scorers during last year’s run to the Conference Finals but neither are with the team today. Without them, the Habs have struggled to put the puck in the net, relying heavily on sniper Max Pacioretty to carry the offensive load. The power play which struggled throughout the first half has finally found its legs and maintaining this trend will be important for the team’s success moving forward.
The Habs are at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night to take on the New York Rangers before returning home for four games at the Bell Centre against the Washington Capitals, Arizona Coyotes, Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils.
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