The next game on the Canadiens slate is the Boston Bruins, recent Cup champs and current conference leaders.
Although, I'd love for the easier games to keep coming down the pipe, this most imminent test of the Canadiens current team, strategy and form couldn't come soon enough.
Not that I want to dismiss their wins against some of the teams they should be rivalling for the playoff berths, this season. But it is important for the management of the team to know a few things about the Habs: namely, could they really challenge for a championship with this current team.
As easy as it is to forget following the quick start, this team is remarkably similar, after all, in make up to the team that stumbled through a season last year, and the one that has not been a Cup champion (or close) for several seasons more.
And, you know, they look like a Cup champion right now. But one has to ask the hard questions: can one really take Buffalo, Winnipeg, Florida or even Washington games to measure against the opponents one would need to beat to make the Cup final and eventually even win it. I'm afraid the answer is no. It would be foolish to think that the Habs will be creating the numerous odd-man rushes they saw vs. the Sabres come playoff time. It would be unrealistic to expect the team to score with the ease they did against Ondrej Pavelec.
Enter the Bruins. With the absence of any Western conference games, the despicable Bs are the closest one can come this season to a true test of mettle. They represent the same formidable Chara-led system that won a Cup in impressive fashion in 2011. That very team that was the roadblock the Habs could not overcome in those playoffs and on so many occasions in the last 82-game season. They have solid goaltending, big, organized defenders and forwards that can score from breaks or possession.
In other words, a harsh test for the PP-driven, rookie-infused offence and largely untested defence of the Montreal Canadiens
I look forward to seeing how the team opens the game and responds to the relentless pressure they will face from a rival that will play them to the end.
The answers gathered
Giong into this season, the management team of the Montreal Canadiens should have had a long list of questions that they wanted answered:
- Do we need to use another buyout?
- What is to become of the forwards with Galchenyuk, Gallgher (and Kristo) coming through?
- When is this team's window of opportunity for contention going to be?
- How much can the team push Carey price?
- Can Diaz find a place in the NHL? (and if so, what of Bennett, Beaulieu, Weber, etc.)?
- How many more pieces are needed to complement Subban, Price, Pacioretty and the other long-term building blocks?
Near the top should have been:
- What will we do if the team appears to be heading for the playoffs?
It seems like the answer would be easy enough. See what happens, perhaps. But hasn't this been the downfall of many a team that muddles its way through the middle ranks of the league for seasons on end. Sooner or later, doesn't a team need to make a push to stack up a bit on talent, either through moves to bolster a roster it recognizes as just about there, or through patient drafting and nurturing for a future battle.
How else to know if the team is almost there, than some good "proper" tests.
It would be a harsh realization to say that the age of Andrei Markov may not be the time for the Canadiens ascendancy, but that bed has been made by the work of others for a decade now. It would not be a slight to Markov to say that the forwards assembled through the last years just will never endure and prevail in the harsh combat of the NHL playoffs.
The reality of realizing an opportunity is upon the team takes hard decisions too. For the luxury of winning and hoarding youngsters is a position that is no longer available to the teams of 30-team parity and reverse order drafting. A build for a run would take some maximization on now obsolete assets like Kristo and Beaulieu.
Perhaps it's a lot to read into a single game against the Bruins, likely to be biased through penalty calls and bounces. But this game like many that are to come are necessary recon for these evaluations of the long view on the Habs.
If you can't beat the Bruins , the Pens or the Rangers, assume that it'll be hard against the Sharks, Blues, Hawks and Wings too, and evaluate what can be done to remedy that situation in the future (near or distant).