The game last night was a hard hat, steel-toe-boot kind of game. The Canadiens came in with a job to do...beat the gutted Panthers...and they went out in a very businesslike fashion and did exactly what they were supposed to do. (Seriously, can you imagine how people would be freaking out if they'd lost last night? Or even made it close?) In the process of people doing their jobs properly, we saw a glimmer of what might have been this year.
Carey Price is having the breakout season we all hoped he would. There's maybe one game you can point to and say he didn't give his team a chance to win. He's relaxed in the net, and humble in the room. The team's MVP is a bargain too, at less than $3-million a season.
Max Pacioretty is vindicating Trevor Timmins' picking him over David Perron in the 2007 draft. The kid is a force since his Christmas call-up, and is giving us glimpses of the real power forward he's going to become.
David Desharnais is proving size issues can be overcome through determination and pure skill. He's done it at every level of hockey up until now, and now he's doing it at the NHL level too. At his current pace, he'd put up more than 20 goals in a full NHL season. Considering the fact that he was undrafted and only got signed by the Habs as a favour to Guy Carbonneau, that's a pretty impressive level of production. We're very fortunate he's grabbed his chance to shine with the Canadiens this year because if he walked this summer, someone else would take him and we'd be cursing management for fools when he scored 25 goals for another team.
Lars Eller's starting to come around too, now that he's got some NHL experience to draw on. And he's dragging Andrei Kostitsyn along with him. The pair are clicking like a Kodak and offering fans a tantalizing glimpse of what it looks like to have two big skilled players using their size to terrorize the opposition.
James Wisniewski is seventh in the league in scoring among defencemen. Tomas Plekanec is scoring and killing penalties like one of the best two-way players in the NHL. The team is 11 points better than it was this time last year, and sitting comfortably in sixth in the conference with a chance to move up. The Habs are also top-ten in the league in both penalty killing and power play, with a combined success rate of 103.1%. That's impressive, when you remember Scotty Bowman's rule of thumb that any combination over 100 on special teams is really good.
There's a whole lot of good about this team, and when it goes out and executes efficiently to get the job done like it did last night, you remember that. It also makes you think about the what-ifs. It's impressive that the team is doing as well as it is with three of the defencemen who started the year in its top six out of the lineup. You can't help wondering, though, how good the team would be with those guys.
The PP is ranked 8th in the league without Andrei Markov. Imagine if The General were there on the blueline, putting up 60 points? And what if he were there, stabilizing the D in its own zone and mentoring P.K.Subban? When you think about it, Markov's loss hurts more when you see how well the team is doing without him and picture how much better it could be with him.
Same thing with Josh Gorges. The PK is tied for 7th in the league without him. Think about how much better it would be with his steady play and shot blocking in his own end. How much better would Hamrlik be with Gorges playing 20+ minutes a game, helping keep the veteran's minutes low? Perhaps, if Gorges hadn't been hurt, Pierre Gauthier would never have traded for Wisniewski. Then again, if both Gorges and Markov had stayed healthy, maybe Gauthier would have kept the picks he traded for Wiz, Sopel and Mara and made a bigger deal at the deadline.
We'll never know, of course, what might have been. Sometimes, though, you watch a game like last night's, when everyone's pulling together to get the job done, and you can't help wondering what if. What if the vagaries of Fate hadn't taken those key players out of a good lineup? Then you have to think, well, maybe next year we'll finally get to see what they can do when the whole crew can come to work.