I was watching the game last night with a couple of friends, and between complaints about the lack of scoring and the lousy defence, one of them said something pretty wise. The NHL, he said, is a house league. They play 82 games to eliminate fourteen teams, but pretty much anyone who can stay above .500 will get a playoff spot. He's right. The Canadiens are having trouble right now, but looking back at season results from the last five years, there are five-game losing streaks and five-game winning streaks over the course of each of them. There are periods when nothing goes in the net and they get shut out two games out of three. There are also periods when they score 30 goals in seven games.
The Habs can play better hockey than we're seeing. We know Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta can score. We know we'll see better defence and more energy and better outcomes as the season goes on. At the moment, though, when we're frustrated by blown chances and dumb plays, it feels like the team is worse than it is.
There's no question there are problems that need to be fixed. Half the defence is over 35 and shows it when they play against young, fast forecheckers. That can easily be changed. Alex Picard and Ryan O'Byrne are available and offer size and youth to a D-corps that has shown it really needs those things.
The top-six forwards aren't scoring much. David Desharnais is scoring in Hamilton and is salivating for a call-up. So is Ryan White who plays every shift like it's his last, while Dustin Boyd and Maxim Lapierre do not. The lack of aggression and committment from the fourth line negates their purpose for playing at all. They're supposed to bring intensity and help set the mood for the rest of the team, even if they're not scoring. When they fail at that, they become at best a non-entity and at worst a liability. White would love the chance to take one of those guys' jobs.
Call-ups at the moment are tough because the team is healthier than it's been in two years. The roster is full unless someone is demoted, and that means waivers. We know, however, that things can change very quickly in the course of a long season and the team that finishes a season is rarely the same as the one that starts it. Trades happen, injuries and call-ups happen and teams evolve.
That doesn't make us feel a lot better about the slow, lazy-looking style we're seeing on the ice right now. It's hard to think "this too shall pass" when we're watching Spacek lose the puck in the corner and Gill screen Price on a point shot in exactly the same way he did last week. It will, though. Things will change. When Gionta's and Cammalleri's shots start going in and Subban has a monster night on the blueline, everything will be rosy again.
Such is life in house league. We just have to remember it's only important to end the season in the top eight, no matter what it takes to get there.