Aren't excuses wonderful things? Whenever we screw up or get lazy or just don't give a damn, we can always fall back on them. Oh sorry, we say, I was sick. My dog had to have an operation. My car broke down and I couldn't make it. The thing about excuses, though, is no matter how legitimate they are, they're just explanations for failure.
The Canadiens have had their share of very legitimate exuses for their largely crappy performance to date. The struggle to find chemistry on a brand-new team was a big one. The terrible injuries to important players with which they've had to cope was an even bigger problem. A new coach, new system and extra pressure on the older players to play young-guy minutes were issues too.
So, here we are now, with nineteen games to go, and the Habs finally have to stand alone. All the excuses are falling away. The chemistry has had 63 games to build. The team has had lots of time to get used to a new coach and learn the system. Injured players are coming back, and all but Cammalleri and Bergeron will be ready to go tomorrow night, even if Markov's health is still a little sketchy. The old guys and all the non-Olympians have had two weeks to catch their collective breath and rehab the nagging aches and pains that slow them down as the NHL year drags on. There's very little left to explain away bad play at this point. Weak excuses like "we didn't show up" or "we failed to play sixty minutes" won't cut it now. The next nineteen games are the Canadiens' playoffs, and if they don't play like that's the case, there are no excuses.
The scary thing about stripping away excuses, though, is only the truth is left. I'm not sure I can handle the truth. I have hope the real Canadiens, sans excuses, are actually a pretty decent team when most of their top-six forwards and their defence are healthy. But what if they aren't? What if the raw, unvarnished truth is the Canadiens, even with all the players healthy and trying hard, just aren't good enough? That's a tough thing to face for a fan. It may be even more difficult to face for the players. Who wants to know they've just punched an entire gruelling NHL season with no hope of winning solely because they suck? Excuses are so much kinder and easier.
In the end, when it comes right down to it, I think you can't win as long as you rely on excuses. Without the easy way out, players have no choice but to face their fear of inadequacy, play their best and let the points fall where they may. It might be a hard thing to admit, but there's some dignity in honestly saying "We did our very best, but the other team was better." It's going to be a desperate run to the post season for the Canadiens now. I think I'd rather face the fear of failure and drop the excuses than watch a team that accepts losing because there's a list of reasons to explain it.
Then again, maybe behind the excuses is a winning team. Maybe now that the explanations for failure are gone, the Habs will succeed. We'll see tomorrow night. As a fan, I think I'll put my sanity at risk and believe in them. My excuses...they're too injured, they've disappointed me before, they're in the habit of losing, the System is stifling...have all got to go in the dumper now, just like the players' do.
Being brutally honest about it, it's too late for the Habs to drop low enough to get a really good draft pick if they miss the playoffs. Our only hope for making something out of this year now lies in the team's ability to drop the explanations for failure and pull it together to achieve a berth in the post-season. So, no more excuses.
Don't worry though. Even without excuses, if things don't work out, there's always blame.