MICHAEL de ADDER CARTOON: Feb. 28, 2020
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The Canadiens have given themselves — and their fans — some hope by winning four of their last five games.
A little bit of hope.
The Canadiens started their bye week in the NHL schedule after Saturday night’s wild 5-4 shootout win over the Vegas Golden Knights at the Bell Centre, improving their record this season to 22-21-7.
After 50 games, the Canadiens have 51 points. After 50 games last season, the St. Louis Blues (23-22-5) also had 51 points and they went on to win the Stanley Cup. The Blues went 22-6-4 in their final 32 regular-season games to finish third in the Central Division with 99 points.
It took 98 points to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference last season. The Canadiens would need 47 points in their final 32 games to hit that mark — a record equivalent to 22-7-3. It’s very, very unlikely that will happen with a team whose longest winning streak this season has been three games and has endured two eight-game winless streaks.
But, like I said, there’s a little bit of hope thanks in large part to Ilya Kovalchuk, who has 4-4-8 totals in eight games since joining the Canadiens. Still, the Canadiens only have a 4-4 record during those games.
Another reason for a bit of hope is that Carey Price is 4-0 in his last four games while allowing only six goals on 148 shots for a .959 save percentage. The Canadiens also seem to have fixed their penalty-killing — which was a huge problem early in the season — fending off 24 of 26 opposition power plays over the last nine games. Their play on home ice remains a big problem with a 10-12-4 record at the Bell Centre.
The Canadiens are hoping to have the injured Jonathan Drouin and Brendan Gallagher back when they play their next game next Monday night at the Bell Centre against the Washington Capitals, but there’s no guarantee that will happen. Drouin is skating and shooting pucks again, but hasn’t practised with the team or been given the green light for contact. Gallagher has only played one of the last 10 games after suffering a concussion.
Canadiens head coach Claude Julien thinks the bye week will help his team.
“There’s a price to pay for a break,” Julien said following Saturday’s morning skate in Brossard. “Part of it was lots of games crammed together. But I think the guys are going to benefit from the rest. For the most part, what we’ve seen in the past is that guys come back fresh and they’re able to give it another push. So there’s some positive in there. But as you know, there’s some games that are crammed together (because of the bye week) and it’s tough on players and sometimes it also creates injuries. So you know there’s different opinions out there (about the bye week) and I’m not one to choose which one. I’m just one to try and deal with what has been given. That’s the schedule we have and you make the most of it. But without a doubt I think a lot of guys are going to benefit from this break coming up.”
Julien was also looking forward to the break, along with his coaching staff.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I’m going to be honest with you, we’ve grinded a lot trying to turn some of these winless streaks into wins and we’ve grinded it out as far as watching lots of video and trying to help individuals, trying to help the team. So, yeah, we’re going to benefit from this break and hopefully we come back fresh as well and ready to tackle that last part.”
Last season, the Canadiens were 3-0-2 in their first five games after the bye week and then lost three straight.
“I’m not a huge fan of the bye week,” veteran centre Nate Thompson said. “I think if you’re going on a roll … I guess it can be good, or it can be bad. But I think it’s good for our team. Some guys are banged up, there’s some injuries. Hopefully we can get some healthy bodies back after the break.
“We’ve had a pretty rigorous schedule here, so I think it will be good to have a few days to just kind of reset the body,” added Thompson, who headed back to his off-season home in Hermosa Beach, Calif., for the break. “Go back, relax and probably skate a couple of times, too, and work out so I’m not dying when I come back. You’ve definitely got to make sure that you’re staying on top of things when you’re having this break so you’re not shaking off so much rust when you get back.”
As for the Canadiens’ playoff hopes, Thompson said: “I think we’re right there. You see in this league if you can rip off a streak, you’re right back in the mix. I think that’s where our mindset is right now.”
That’s a lot easier said than done.
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