Montreal Canadiens Heating Up – And That’s Okay Habs Fans

MONTREAL, QC - FEBRUARY 1: Tomas Tatar #90 of the Montreal Canadiens celebrates with the bench after scoring a goal against the Florida Panthers in the NHL game at the Bell Centre on February 1, 2020 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QC - FEBRUARY 1: Tomas Tatar #90 of the Montreal Canadiens celebrates with the bench after scoring a goal against the Florida Panthers in the NHL game at the Bell Centre on February 1, 2020 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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The Montreal Canadiens have been winning games lately. A postseason berth may be impossible, but it is not the worst thing to have the team win its fair share of games late in the season.

The Montreal Canadiens season wasn’t over after its first eight game losing streak of the season. I think it was their second eight game losing streak that was really the final nail in their team’s coffin.

It sounds ridiculous, but it is true. The Habs were able to fight their way back toward respectability after losing eight straight games in November. Then, they somehow found a way to match that losing streak and it sunk them near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. We all knew at that time that the playoffs were not happening.

Well, the playoffs will be happening in 2020, but for the third consecutive season they will not include the Montreal Canadiens. It’s an unfortunate reality of the parity-era of the National Hockey League that a few key injuries can ruin a team’s season.

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That is exactly what happened to this year’s Montreal Canadiens. They began the year 11-5-3 and weren’t even getting fantastic contributions from Carey Price who normally carries this team wherever it goes. They looked good. They beat great teams like the Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues. They fought back to win games they should have lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs. They were among the best teams in the entire league.

Then Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron were injured and it all came crashing down. They lost eight in a row and sank like a stone. But then they won seven of their next ten and seemed to straighten things out. Then, they lost eight in a row again and became a bit of a laughingstock.

However, they have come out of that eight game losing streak (not the first one, the second eight game losing streak) by winning six of their next eight. The Canadiens have held their opponent to one or fewer goals in five of those eight games. Vintage Carey Price has reappeared and this team looks good once again.

Normally when a team is far from the playoff picture, fans just want them to lose so they get the best draft pick possible. The “dreaded middle ground” of missing the playoffs but also missing the first ten draft picks is supposed to be the worst place in the hockey world.

That isn’t the case for this version of the Montreal Canadiens. With the team playing well again, and more reinforcements coming soon in the form of Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron, it is a great thing if this team plays well the rest of the season and narrowly misses the postseason for the second straight year.

Why is that so good? Because it would prove this roster is a good enough team when healthy to make the postseason and beat any given team on any given night. This team doesn’t have a roster construction issue, it has a depth issue.

Roster construction issues require a total overhaul to fix. Depth issues can be solved by adding allowing young players time to develop and adding a few mediocre free agents in the summer. The Montreal Canadiens do not require a total reconstruction of their roster. They need a little more depth to fill the holes when top nine forwards or top six defenders are injured.

Well, reinforcements are definitely on the way this offseason. Alexander Romanov is likely to sign with the Habs and move to North America after two seasons in the KHL. He has all the tools to be a top four defenceman tomorrow night if need be and will provide a huge boost where the Habs need it most – on left defence.

Cole Caufield is the top scoring threat among Freshmen at the NCAA level. There is no question that he can be a power play threat at the NHL level immediately and the Habs could use a weapon on the man advantage. Whether or not he can score at even strength next season remains to be seen, but he will add more needed organizational depth if he chooses to sign after his first NCAA season – which he said was his plan. (It’s in French but he said it was his plan to join the Habs in time for the playoffs in April. We can’t hold it against him for being more optimistic than me about the playoffs.)

Also, a handful of interesting offensive prospects are set to turn pro after high scoring Junior careers. Cam Hillis, Samuel Houde, Rafael Harvey-Pinard and Cole Fonstad should all be playing for the Laval Rocket next season. They won’t make the Habs out of camp, but they will provide more depth to fill voids when injuries occur.

Also, this is still a very young team. Sure, Carey Price and Shea Weber are getting older but they are both playing fantastic right now and are not going to fall off a cliff next season. The rest of the roster? One of the youngest in the league.

Nick Suzuki, Jonathan Drouin, Max Domi, Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher, Joel Armia, Artturi Lehkonen and Jesperi Kotkaniemi will all play a top nine role with the Habs next season and all of them are under 30. Suzuki, Kotkaniemi, Drouin, Domi and Lehkonen are all under 25. Ryan Poehling is just 20 and could join them as well. Almost all of these players will be even better next year than they are this season.

On defence, Victor Mete is just 21 and Cale Fleury is 20. Romanov will be 20 and is joining them in Montreal. Under the tutelage of veterans Weber, Jeff Petry and Ben Chiarot, the Habs youngsters will get better and better each month next season. Imagine Mete with Weber, Romanov with Petry an Chiarot with Fleury. A solid, steady veteran on every pairing with a skilled young player who can move the puck up ice.

Otto Leskinen, Brett Kulak and even Jordan Harris could provide the depth that is needed in a long season. And don’t forget Noah Juulsen. If he can get healthy he could be a key player for the Habs on the blue line.

So, do the Habs need to “tank” this season? Should we cheer for them to lose and get the best draft pick possible? No. Why not? Because they don’t need Alexis Lafrenière to make their team good. Their team is good. They just need a bit more depth and consistency from younger players like Kotkaniemi and Fleury. Time will take care of that.

I’d much rather see the Habs play well and just miss the playoffs because the team you see on the ice this season is pretty much the same team you will see next season. They don’t need a saviour to ride in on a white horse next season. They need health.

This team has been good when healthy and promises to be even better next season if healthy. Bigger contributions from Kotkaniemi, Drouin, Byron Suzuki who is getting better every game, Romanov and Caufield will make this team even better that its healthy 2019-20 version.

Next. Habs need to win all key games against teams between them and postseason. dark

The Habs healthy 2019-20 version only lasted 19 games but they went 11-5-3. They don’t need to tank and get a top three pick to save them. They need to win games and head into next season with the confidence and swagger of a good team.