The Montreal Canadiens are on the verge of a playoff spot. They need only three points from a possible 10 to conclude the season to be assured of at least fourth.
However, third is still a possibility with the Winnipeg Jets on a seven-game losing skid. Best thing to do is take care of your own business, which is not an easy task with the Senators losing only two in regulation in their last 10.
Ottawa continued their solid play skating to a comfortable 5-1 win.
Nick Suzuki picked up yet another point in this one, having now notched a point in seven straight games. What a run for Suzuki as he has, in the last seven games, four goals and seven assists for 11 points. Anything resembling this over a longer run of games makes Suzuki a first-line centre.
This is a shortened season of only 56 games, but with three more points, Suzuki will equal last season’s total of points. He is definitely still improving from year to year. He is becoming everything that the organization could hope for.
The only reason to hesitate is the sample size. Every player has highs and lows. For Suzuki, his goal is achieve these highs to push the points totals up to impressive levels. However, that has to be combined with lows that are not completely devoid of results as they have been.
This is absolutely fine for highs. Now, he needs to just work on those lows to put in, at least, a little production when things are not going well, and the energy is not there. That’s what NHL executives like to call consistency.
All in all, though, this is extremely encouraging for Suzuki and the Canadiens. The goal has been for Suzuki or Jesperi Kotkaniemi to find first line skills. It never has mattered which one, only that one of them land. The other can then just slot into the number two centre role.
This isn’t to say that Kotkaniemi isn’t going to keep moving forward, but the organizational pressure would be off, and the team would be in fine shape either way. Remember, this is a 21-year-old kid and a 20-year-old kid. Pros at this game know that it is at the age of 25 that most of the improvement is finished, not 20. The breakout season is often at 23.
Enjoy what the two are bringing so far, and wait patiently for the inevitable ‘more’ that is to come. The math says 95 per cent of players are far from done growing their game at the age of 20.
That’s why the greatest that this group will bring is not now. Let the kids keep growing as they will. The best is yet to come.
The schedule has been gruelling and somehow they have risen above it. Montreal had completed three straight comebacks, which in the NHL is an extremely difficult task. They’ve managed to put themselves in quite a good spot for a playoff berth with those comebacks with that outstanding determination.
In this one, however, they simply had an empty gas tank. With four games in seven nights for five weeks, it’s remarkable that they have taken this as far as they have. One should have expected far more empty tanks than this.
The issue is they need a couple more results before the season ends, and truthfully, it won’t be easy. Every game right now for these players fighting lactic acid as much as their opponent is extremely difficult. On this night, they just didn’t have it.
There’s no need to critique this team in individual ways for this effort. They all suffered from the same malaise that stopped them from playing far from their best. They have played 21 games in 36 days and their record is 10 and 11. It’s lunacy, this schedule, and their record during it is admirable. It could have been substantially worse.
No jump. No legs. No result. That’s hockey. Let’s just move on to the next one.
Call of the Wilde!
With the Canadiens being on the verge of a playoff spot, it’s time to consider scenarios for the post-season. The playoff schedule has not been made yet, but if the four berths in the North Division are known before the Canucks and Flames play their four game set after the rest of the schedule is done, there is a high likelihood that the playoffs will begin right away.
Vancouver and Calgary would be playing their final four games (to complete sponsorship deals, draft placement, and bonuses for players in the regular season) at the exact same time as the 16 teams playing their playoff first round. It’s certainly unheard of in NHL history, but this is life in the time of Covid-19, so unusual is what you should expect.
Jamming games together more is not optimal for the Canadiens who could use a break after a gruelling schedule. Their schedule, while not Vancouver’s with 19 games in 31 days, is also unheard of in hockey history to play four games in seven nights for five weeks.
However, the Canadiens should be able to get a break of some smaller length to regroup — perhaps four days between the last game of the regular season and the first game of the playoffs.
This could be extremely beneficial as Brendan Gallagher tries to get back in time from a broken thumb. Shea Weber could use the added time to recover from what is likely a plethora of issues leading with an unknown upper-body injury. Paul Byron remains on the injured list as well. Carey Price is still recovering from a concussion as well.
Add to that, the entire team is likely close to gassed at this point considering how hectic it has been. Not predicting an upset in the first round, but if the Canadiens get their injured back, and they get a good rest, a full line-up could compete at a higher level than most experts will predict.
First though, they have to get the little nagging problem of some math out of the way to assure themselves of that post-season berth.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.
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