Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Aftermath: Tapped Out

Sometimes, when you're dressed in rags, your bum shows. The same is true when you're wearing a hospital gown, which might be the more apt metaphor for the state the of the Canadiens roster.

To their credit, the Habs haven't given us too many occasions to lament the depleted lineup this year. Considering who they're missing, they've managed to put on a good show and keep a firm hold on their playoff berth so far. Last night, though, was one of those times when you really wished it was Andrei Markov facing down Brooks Laich's speedy rush instead of Hal Gill. And you yearned for Max Pacioretty standing in the crease on the PP rather than...nobody. The Caps are the hottest team in the league, and the Canadiens just had too many injuries and too many rookies to beat them. The trick to being a dark horse playoff contender is to get to the show healthy. That won't be this year's Habs. These guys have lots of heart and determination, but they're running out of capable warm bodies.

It's very worrisome that Jeff Halpern and Tomas Plekanec, neither of them a wimp, were forced out of the game last night. At this point there's very little left in Hamilton to call up if needed, and nothing that can replace Pleks' versatility. The Habs aren't safely in the playoffs yet, and even if they make it, missing those guys will probably punch their ticket for an early summer vacation. There's only so far heart can take you when everybody else has a healthy, talented lineup.

The best bit of good fortune the Canadiens have had this year is that in the midst of all the injuries, Carey Price has remained healthy. There's no question he's been the team's best player and MVP all season. He was great again last night, and, if not for a terrible bounce off the glass and a couple of defensive breakdowns, might have stolen a win. His play gives even a depleted team a chance, so there's always hope in the playoffs with a goalie like that in net. If the Canadiens hold onto their post-season berth for the last dozen games, Price will give them an opportunity to make a go of it. He's the only chance they've got.

While we can be proud of the way the Habs have been holding it together so far, at this point we also have to reel in our expectations. Healthy, this is a good team. Right now, though, they're far from healthy. They're doing their best to pull the shreds of the tattered linup around them, but at this point, their bums are showing.

1 comment:

Jay in PA said...

One day, I'd like to see an analysis of coaching vs. injuries in terms of their effects on team success. The Pens have lost 13 of their last 20 games (counting OTL) going back to the beginning of February, and Crosby was the only significant player out for a chunk of that time. I'm beginning to feel more and more that coaches and systems have a negligible effect at the NHL level compared to the simple talent level of the team on the ice. Coaches can motivate, and they can encourage the players to play a team game that makes up for limited talent (see the early Florida Panthers for an example), but the fact of the matter is, it's the quality of the players that wins or loses in the regular season. The fact that the Habs are nine points clear of 9th place and still within striking distance of the bruins (they lost their capitalization rights) without Markov, Gorges, Spatch, and now Sopel is nothing short of amazing.

Frankly, I'd rather we didn't rush Pleks and Halpern back onto the ice. Pleky played injured last playoffs and wasn't fully himself. Halpern is older and is going to mean more in the playoffs. Call up Aaron Palushaj and another Dog, give them spot duty on the fourth line, and give Desharnais more minutes. As of last night, DD was fourth on the team in points since the all-star game (alas, Max Pacioretty was first), so it's time he had more ice time anyway. Give the injured guys time to heal up properly and we'll be in much better shape come playoff time.