Coming off a week that saw a lot of shuffling and changes, a lack of scoring, and only a 2 point advancement in the standings, the Montreal Canadiens were lucky to maintain their first place position in the North Eastern Division. And as we were all aware coming into the month of November, it is not going to get any easier. This week is proof of that.
But the Habs begin the week in continued controversy. The intense movement in the top two lines by coach Martin definitely got tongues wagging here in Montreal, and there were no great results from the changes either. Add to that, the dumping of Dustin Boyd on waivers, and there are still plenty of things to talk about in the land of hockey in Quebec. Clearly we don't need a goalie controversy to keep the "Hockey Talk" going.
But as the Canadiens get set to embark on a new week, they have to realize that the deeper they get into the season, the more intense the challenges. And those challenges come in the form of what should be considered their most adversarial opponent in the North East; one of the strongest Western Conference contenders; and a sleeper team that always produces points against the Habs.
Martin's boys begin the week against the red hot Vancouver Canucks. Sitting third in the West, with a strong 8-3-2 record, the Canucks have been lightning hot, winning their last six straight. But they aren't just getting all their offense from the Sedin Twins. No doubt they're a big part of the picture with 16 points apiece (11 Goals and 21 Assists). But it's the 3rd line combination of Maholtra, Torres, and Hansen that have been lighting things up as of late. They've combined for 22 points this season, and 19 of those coming in the past 6 games. The only possible saving grace lies in the fact that Luongo hasn't exactly been stellar this season. If the Habs get to shooting at him, and causing a stir in front of the net (for a change), they may have a chance. Defensively, the Canadiens have the ability to make a game of this, especially if they can stay out of the penalty box. And there is no doubt that Carey Price will be a difference maker. But the offense has to get to Bobby Lou, and make him pay early on.
The week continues as the Canadiens hit the road and face North Eastern Divisional rival Boston Bruins. Forget the incredible historic rivalry between these two squads. What's important to note is the hunger that Boston has after their failed playoff attempt last year, and their desire to make up for it. Add the fact that they have a super hot goaltender in Tim Thomas who is 7-0 and has 3 shout-outs supporting his 1.07 GAA and .967 GAA. This is a team that you can not have a faltering offense against, so there will be a definite turnaround required in Habs scoring by the time Thursday rolls around. Nathan Horton, Ryder and Lucic will also be a strong test for Montreal's defensive unit.
But if there's anything the Canadiens have proven over time, it's that they are normally capable of meeting tougher teams head on. Often their woes come at the hands of teams that many people consider "shoe-ins" for a victory. And that's what has me concerned most about the weeks finale against Carolina on Saturday night.
The Canes sit 10th overall in the East and have a 7-7-0 record. But the glaring stat for the Huricanes squad is the amount of goals that they've given up this season. Cam Ward has had a slow beginning in his twelve starts, so there is a great opportunity for the flailing Habs offense to gain some confidence. Add to the fact that the Canes will face some strong adversity against the Flyers in their previous match; Saturdays close out back on home ice at the Bell Center has promise. But as I said, adversity seems to be a friend to Martin's squad, so the Carolina match-up could turn into another Columbus fiasco if they don't enter into the game prepared both mentally and physically.
So once again, the weeks become progressively tougher. Without doubt, there are some huge points up for grab this week, and the Habs have to be prepared at every turn. After all, we're closing in on 20 games played, and there's yet another 4 game (including back to back weekend matches) week ahead to close out the month.
If ever there was a time to get the offense rolling, it's now. Let's hope all the shuffling that's been going on pays off. I'm sure we all agree that first place feels pretty good so far this year, and it would be a shame to relinquish it now.