The Montreal Canadiens have reached the halfway point of their season. In the midst of another losing streak, do they have any chance of making the playoffs?
The Montreal Canadiens entered the 2019-20 season with high hopes for a playoff berth. After finishing with 96 points last season and narrowly missing the postseason, some internal growth and a little extra help on left defence would hopefully put them into the 2020 playoff picture.
The Habs started the year playing okay but finding ways to get points in the standings. Some thrilling third period comebacks led to overtime wins or even shootout losses than turned zero points into one.
When they beat the Washington Capitals on November 15th, in dominating fashion by the way, it capped off a 7-1-1 run that saw them beat Stanley Cup contenders like the Capitals, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Arizona Coyotes and Vegas Golden Knights. Even more impressive was that the wins over Arizona, Vegas and Washington were all on the road.
This gave them a record of 11-5-3 on the season and though they were still a handful of points back of the Bruins, they looked destined for a playoff berth. Making the postseason even more realistic at that time was the fact the Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning were struggling. Both of them were expected to be among the top three teams in the division, but they were far from their best in the first six weeks of the season.
Since then? Well, the Habs have watched the Leafs and Lightning catch fire while Montreal has lost all momentum. They did lose Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron to injury in that Washington win, and have seen Victor Mete, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Joel Armia and now Brendan Gallagher miss time in the past six weeks as well.
They haven’t been able to fill these sizeable gaps. The Habs immediately lost eight straight games and were able to finally snap that and go on a nice 4-1-0 run. It didn’t make up for losing eight straight, but when you go 7-1-1, lose eight, then go 4-1-0, it kind of eases the impact of the losing streak. But with Tampa and Toronto on fire, the Habs had no margin for error.
They have erred. First, they lost to the Detroit Red Wings for the second time in as many games before heading on the road. They did well in Western Canada, going 3-1-0 and sticking around the playoff conversation. Since the Christmas break the Canadiens have lost four straight games in regulation, including two to the Lightning and one to division rival Florida Panthers.
When you have no margin for error and then lose four straight in regulation, it doesn’t bode well for your playoff chances.
What it all adds up to now is the Habs are at the midpoint of the season, having played 41 games, and have a record of 18-17-6. This puts them 13th in the 16 team Eastern Conference. It puts them on pace for 84 points which is not close to good enough for the postseason. With Toronto going 8-1-1 in their last ten and Tampa going 7-2-1, the bar has been raised in the Atlantic Division considerably in the past month, while the Habs have floundered like a fish out of water.
There are only there teams that have more regulation losses at home than wins and the Habs are one of them. The Bell Centre is supposed to be an intimidating, difficult place for the opposition, but it has been as inviting as every arena outside of Ottawa and Detroit. You can’t come close to the playoffs if you only have 40 points on home ice.
So, what are the Habs going to have to do to turn this around and make it to the postseason? Well, with 42 points in their first 41 games, they are going to need 55 points in their final 41 just to get to where they were last season, which wasn’t good enough.
They are just six points back of the Lightning, but they have also played two more games than Tampa Bay. The Lightning, as well as the Maple Leafs and Bruins are on pace for 100 points or more. The Philadelphia Flyers are in the second wildcard spot and they are on pace for 98. That means 55 points in the second half may not do it.
It’s impossible to predict the second half for every team and identify exactly how many points the Canadiens need to get into the playoffs. However, it is possible to look at how many teams they need to leapfrog. They are in 13th place, so they have to jump over at least five teams.
That means we can’t put a number on how many points they need, but we know they need to be better than the New York Rangers. They need to be two points better than the Buffalo Sabres. They need to be five points better than the Columbus Blue Jackets. They need to be six points better than the Florida Panthers. AND they need to be either eight points better than the Philadelphia Flyers or seven points better than the Lightning.
That is a lot of climbing they need to do. I know that the St. Louis Blues came from last place around this time of year to win it all, blah, blah, blah. But how often does that happen? Once. Ever. That’s why people are still talking about, because it was something no one has seen before.
It is time for Habs fans to accept the reality of the season. Except for a once in a lifetime story, teams don’t just jump over one-third of their conference in the second half of the season. The defensive flaws on this team have been exposed and trading a fourth round pick for Marco Scandella is not going to have the same impact that Jordan Binnington did for the Blues.
Trading any more picks for immediate help wouldn’t make any sense. Trying to make a run now because of what St. Louis did would be like saying: “Honey, my cousin Leo won the lottery last spring so I am spending our entire life savings on lottery tickets tonight.”
It’s not happening. Unfortunately, the Habs can’t recover from all of their injuries and just don’t have the depth to stay in the race while four key wingers are injured. With the top teams in the division playing to their potential, the Habs either need to go 26-11-4 and hope for a wildcard berth, or they are going to miss the playoffs.
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I think we know that the more likely scenario is here. It is extremely likely, if not a guarantee, that the Canadiens are going to be on the outside looking in to the playoffs for the third straight year.