I've been very impressed with the way the Habs have really buckled down to business since Christmas. Despite the rash of injuries with which they've been afflicted, the team continues to roll along and seems to have really pulled together in the face of adversity. Yet, fans continue to complain the team isn't perfect. Some even continue to think it's a good idea to gut the franchise to acquire Vincent Lecavalier. It's driving me crazy. So here are the top ten reasons why Habs fans need to stop bitching:
10. Jaro Halak. Sure, he's not perfect. Jaro sometimes forgets to get up after he's dropped to his knees to make a save. His rebounds make the puck look like a jet ball and they unfortunately often end up right back in the slot from whence they came. He's small and when he's lacking in confidence, he plays smaller. But, even with those weaknesses, Jaro gets the job done. He allows four goals against Ottawa, but then shuts down Spezza and Alfredsson in the shootout. He gives up five against Florida, failing to preserve two two-goal leads (and no...he wasn't the only one at fault) and again was perfect in the overtime and shootout to bring home the two points. If not for Halak's ability to collect wins under pressure, the Canadiens could be in much worse shape than they are right now. When Carey Price went down with his second injury of the year after Christmas, Halak filled his skates and gave his team a chance to win every night.
9. Maxim Lapierre. Lapierre has picked an ideal time to really blossom into a hard-checking, faceoff-winning, goal-scoring, do-it-all kind of player. For a guy who got sent to Hamilton out of training camp last year because he got outplayed by Kyle Chipchura, he's come a long way. And the line he's centering with Guillaume Latendresse and Tom Kostopoulos has played a big role in the consistency the team has acquired since Christmas. He's also managing to take the heat off an underperforming Tomas Plekanec and fill the gap left down the middle of the lineup with the absence of Saku Koivu.
8. The powerplay. Words fail me when I think about how awful the powerplay was through most of the first half of the season. At one point, my heart would actually sink when I realized the Habs would have to plod their way through yet another man advantage. It got so bad I considered it a successful powerplay if the Canadiens just managed to prevent a short-handed goal against. In the last ten games or so, though, the PP has risen from the dead. It's finally helping make the difference in close games and making teams think twice about taking a penalty against the Habs. That, in turn, means the Canadiens' speed game has more room to manouver, which results in more even-strength scoring too.
7. Patrice Brisebois. I was among the many who groaned heartily when Bob Gainey re-signed Breezer for yet another season, but I comforted myself with the thought that the old geezer would just be a reserve. He'd spend most of his time in the pressbox and play a scattered game against a soft opponent, just to shake the rust off. As it turns out, of course, he's been called upon to do much more than that. Mike Komisarek got hurt. Ryan O'Byrne wasn't ready. For one reason or another, Brisebois has been the number six D on the team for most of the season, and, although he still makes the occasional egregious error, he's not really much worse than any other team's number-six blueliner. In the end, it turns out the Canadiens don't have a better option at the moment and Brisebois has filled in and done a mostly decent job.
6. Guy Carbonneau. Carbo's name is the first to come up in sentences including the words "fire, now" and "stupid system" when things are going badly. But he's rarely mentioned when the team's winning. That's not fair. Of course, he does stubborn, inexplicable things like insisting on putting Tom Kostopoulos on the powerplay when TK's got about as much chance of scoring there as one of the Molson Ex dancing girls. But as Jacques Demers told USA Today this week, Carbo's communication skills have improved by a lot, and his bench management has become world class since he started two years ago. Witness the fact that he not only is now aware he's entitled to a timeout, but sometimes, he actually uses it! And when the team put up some of its stinkier games in November, rather than call out players in the media as he would have done in his rookie year, Carbo shut up and praised the good parts of the team instead. He's also learned to zip it with the officals for the most part. All in all, Carbo is doing a good job with this team under some pretty tough circumstances.
5. The farm system. How many teams can lose an entire first line, starting goalie and a couple of solid role players, call up a few guys from the farm and keep rolling without missing a beat? Not too many. The likes of Matt D'Agostini, Max Pacioretty, Greg Stewart, Kyle Chipchura and Yannick Weber not only covered for the missing players, but looked like bona fide NHLers while doing it. That's a credit to Don Lever in Hamilton and Trevor Timmins' drafting prowess.
4. The Boston Bruins. Habs fans everywhere are obsessed with the Bruins-Canadiens electric rivalry this year. Rightly so, too. The Bruins are a great team. But while the rivalry is fun, the Bruins are serving another purpose for the Habs. Last season, the inexplicable dominance over Boston gave the Habs a somewhat inflated sense of their own invulnerability. That came back to bite them in the playoffs when the blinders fell off and they realized the Bruins were a really good team. This season, the advantage falls to the Bruins...but they're showing the Canadiens what they have to do to win, and giving the Habs a target to aim for in the second half. The Habs are always better when they have something to chase. The Bruins are also taking the heat off the Canadiens in that everyone else is aiming for them too.
3. The rebound factor. Mike Komisarek said after the loss to Boston last week that the team prides itself on its ability to come back after a loss, which it did nicely with subsequent wins over Nashville and Ottawa. That ability to be consistent is something in which the team has pride...and means the fans aren't suffering through the extended losing streaks of two seasons ago.
2. The playoffs. For the first time in a long while, we started the season with a playoff spot already confirmed in most of our minds. Even last year, before the big second half that propelled the team to the conference title, we worried about the team missing the post-season by a nose, like it did in 2006-07. It's nice to be worrying about what seed the Habs will be in late April, instead of whether they'll be playing then at all.
And the number one reason why Habs fans need to stop bitching:
1. They're winning. A lot. And when it comes down to it, that's what the fans want. Sure, we want dominating, hockey-clinic type wins if we can get them. We wouldn't turn up our noses at powerplay hat tricks and goalie shutouts. But in a long season, bounces can be strange and referees unstable. Sometimes a team is tired or sick or just off and doesn't look so good. Considering that, we should be glad the points keep piling up and the team is right up there with the best in the league. After all, when we look back at the Centennial season, we'll see the team's record, and we won't remember the game they took a period off or the goalie allowed a lousy one. That's not to say those things don't offer up some opportunity for lively debate among fans, but they shouldn't suck the joy out of a victory as they seem to do sometimes...resulting in the aforementioned bitching. Winning is all that matters, and the Habs are doing it. Be happy, fans.