The Montreal Canadiens return to the ice tonight following a 17 day Olympic break, and they will not be eased back into the NHL schedule. They have just four games before the NHL’s trade deadline sets in on March 5th, and none of them will be an easy two points.
Depending on what happens over the next four games, the Habs could be settled nicely into second overall in the Atlantic Division, or they could have lost their grip on a playoff position.
Tonight the Habs host the Detroit Red Wings who have one of the best records as the visiting team in the Eastern Conference. The Red Wings have a 15-9-4 record away from their Joe Louis Arena, which is a .607 points percentage, trailing only the New York Rangers for best road record in the East. Montreal will also play this game without Carey Price, the top goaltender and gold medal winner from the Olympic Games.
Tomorrow, the Habs head to Pittsburgh to take on the Eastern Conference leading Penguins. The Pens have established their stranglehold on the Metropolitan Division by winning almost every game at home. Their 23-4-1 record as the host is tops in the entire NHL, and will not make it easy on the Canadiens on the second night of back to backs.
After one day off the Habs begin March with a visit from their oldest rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs always play the Habs tough, and the two teams are currently tied with 70 points in the Atlantic Division race. The Leafs have defeated Montreal twice in three tries already this season, scoring 11 goals in the process. It is always an entertaining and hard fought game between the NHL’s oldest rivals, and either team could win on any given night.
After that, Montreal heads west to take on the Los Angeles Kings on March 3rd. The Kings have struggled recently, but are still one of the best teams in the entire league. One thing they have mastered is their defensive game, as they have the best goals against average in the league. Montreal already has trouble putting the puck in the net, and that facet of their game will be highlighted against a great defensive team.
The Habs next game is another tough one against the Anaheim Ducks, but that will be a few hours after the trade deadline has past. Currently, Montreal is just one point back of the Tampa Bay Lightning for second in the Atlantic, and six points up on Detroit who occupy the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
Montreal has had trouble scoring goals all season long, and if they are sitting in second in the Atlantic, they will surely go fishing for some scoring help on the wings. However, if they falter and fall to eighth or ninth in the East, you could see them move veterans such as Brian Gionta and Andrei Markov at the deadline.
If the Habs grab three wins in the next four games, which is a monumental task at this point, they will be in a great position to add. If they lose three or all four games this week, they could find themselves falling too far behind the top teams in their division, and selling off assets in hopes the future becomes brighter.
It seems crazy to think that four games could have such a big impact on a team’s philosophy moving forward. However, with the parity around the league these days a few points can move you from outside the playoffs to contender status.
Keep a close eye on your Habs this week, as their play in the next seven days may change the fortunes of this organization for years to come.