Daily Hab-it: Looking up for a change
Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price (31) celebrates with teammate James Wisniewski (20) after they defeated the Florida Panthers 4-0 in an NHL hockey game in Sunrise, Fla., Thursday, March 3, 2011. (AP Photo/Steve Mitchell)
Published Sunday, March 13, 2011 1:36AM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 3:10AM EDT
Those who have been loyal readers of The Daily Hab-it know that every season, around this time of year, I run what I call the Morning Playoff Check-up.
It used to serve as a barometer of the Canadiens playoff chances, gauging their schedule against the teams with which they were fighting for a spot in the spring dance.
Well, after Saturday afternoon's impressive 3-0 win in Pittsburgh where a shell of a defence did a hell of a job defensively, the Canadiens have played themselves into a situation where – for the first time in three seasons of doing this exercise – the Morning Playoff Check-up will be looking upwards, rather than downwards.
The victory Saturday allowed the Canadiens to remain in the lead peloton of six teams in the Eastern Conference, 11 points clear of ninth-place Carolina and seven points clear of the seventh-place Rangers.
That means for the first time since that magical, power play-driven mirage of a first place finish in the conference three years ago, the Canadiens likely won't need to scratch and claw their way into the playoffs.
It's a pretty remarkable state of affairs, considering everything the team has gone through, and I don't only mean the injuries.
Mike Cammalleri having a two-point game Saturday is an encouraging sign, but his production still has no chance of coming anywhere near the expectations created by his tremendous playoff run last season. Brian Gionta is on pace for 29 goals, which would be one better than last season, except with 20 extra games played. And I don't think I need to go into the Scott Gomez situation for you.
Basically, the Canadiens are doing it by committee, with different people coming to the foreground at various points in the season with the lone constant shining night after night. And that's Carey Price.
The talk that's starting to percolate of Price being a Hart Trophy candidate has some serious merit, because not only is he by far the biggest reason the Canadiens find themselves in a playoff spot, the team might actually play its opening playoff game at home because of him.
Granted, there's still a mountain to climb, but the possibility certainly exists that the Canadiens rise to fourth in the conference or pass the Bruins for the division lead.
They do have a difficult schedule in terms facing current playoff teams in seven of their final 13 games, while everyone else the Canadiens can reasonably catch has fewer. But of those teams the Canadiens have within their sights, everyone but Philadelphia, they all have some screwy portion of their schedule remaining.
Here they are:
Washington – The Capitals game here Tuesday night is the start of a very difficult six-game road trip that brings them to Detroit, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Ottawa and back here in Montreal. That might very well bring this team back to earth from the seven-game winning streak and 10-2-0 run it's been on.
Boston – The Bruins play their next three games on the road then begin a stretch where they play eight of their final 11 at home. Sounds great. Except the Bruins have been way better on the road (22-9-4) than they've been at home (16-12-5) this season.
Pittsburgh – The Penguins play four of their final five on the road to close out the season, and the one home game is against New Jersey. The road games, however, are against Tampa, Florida, the Islanders and Atlanta, and the Penguins have a more than respectable 18-10-6 away from home.
Tampa Bay – The Lightning have a brutal finish to the schedule. First off, an epic 12-game February homestand where Tampa went 7-3-2 has left the Lightning with only five home games in their final 13. Worse than that, four of their final five will be on the road, and all five of those final games will played in a span of only eight days.
Montreal – The Canadiens actually have a pretty balanced schedule from here on out, with no more than two straight games at home or on the road. They do have two sets of back-to-back games remaining, a situation in which the Canadiens are 14-10-4 this season (cumulative record from 14 sets of two games). Of their seven road remaining games, one comes against a team currently ahead of them in the standings, and that's Boston. At home, Montreal plays Washington twice and Tampa once.
Now, just a note about some of the information you'll see here every morning through the end of the season, the number of playoff teams left on the schedule is based on that morning's standings, so it will change from day to day. And the number of shootout wins is listed because non-shootout wins is now the first tiebreaker after points in the event of a tie.
The rest is pretty straight forward. So, without further ado, here is day one of the 2010-11 Morning Playoff Check-up. Don't strain your neck looking up.
Philadelphia, 1st place, 42-19-7, 91 points (2 shootout wins)
Last night: Lost 5-4 in overtime at home to Atlanta
Next game: Tuesday in Florida
14 games remaining, 7 against playoff teams
Home (6) – 3/22 Was; 3/24 Pit; 3/27 Bos; 3/31 Atl; 4/3 NYR; 4/9 NYI.
Away (8) – 3/15 Fla; 3/17 Atl; 3/19 Dal; 3/26 NYI; 3/29 Pit; 4/1 NJ; 4/5 Ott; 4/8 Buf.
Washington, 2nd place, 39-20-10, 88 points (3 shootout wins)
Last night: Did not play
Next game: Today v. Chicago
13 games remaining, 6 against playoff teams
Home (5) – 3/13 Chi; 3/29 Car; 3/31 CBJ; 4/2 Buf; 4/6 Fla.
Away (8) – 3/15 Mtl; 3/16 Det; 3/18 NJ; 3/22 Pha; 3/25 Ott; 3/26 Mtl; 4/5 Tor; 4/9 Fla.
Boston, 3rd place, 38-21-9, 85 points (1 shootout win)
Last night: Did not play
Next game: Tuesday in Columbus
14 games remaining, 5 against playoff teams
Home (8) – 3/22 NJ; 3/24 Mtl; 3/26 NYR; 3/29 Chi; 3/31 Tor; 4/2 Atl; 4/6 NYI; 4/9 Ott.
Away (6) – 3/15 CBJ; 3/17 Nash; 3/19 Tor; 3/27 Pha; 4/4 NYR; 4/10 NJ.
Pittsburgh, 4th place, 39-22-8, 86 points (5 shootout wins)
Last night: Lost 3-0 at home to Montreal
Next game: Today v. Edmonton
13 games remaining, 5 against playoff teams
Home (6) – 3/13 Edm; 3/20 NYR; 3/25 NJ; 3/27 Fla; 3/29 Pha; 4/5 NJ.
Away (7) – 3/15 Ott; 3/21 Det; 3/24 Pha; 3/31 TB; 4/2 Fla; 4/8 NYI; 4/10 Atl.
Tampa Bay, 5th place, 38-22-9, 85 points (6 shootout wins)
Last night: Lost 4-3 in overtime at Florida
Next game: Monday in Toronto
13 games remaining, 3 against playoff teams
Home (5) – 3/22 NYI; 3/25 Car; 3/29 Ott; 3/31 Pit; 4/8 Fla.
Away (8) – 3/14 Tor; 3/17 Mtl; 3/19 Ott; 3/26 Car; 4/2 Min, 4/3 Chi; 4/5 Buf; 4/9 Car.
Montreal, 6th place, 38-24-7, 83 points (2 shootout wins)
Last night: Won 3-0 in Pittsburgh
Next game: Tuesday v. Washington
13 games remaining, 7 against playoff teams
Home (6) – 3/15 Was; 3/17 TB; 3/22 Buf; 3/26 Was; 3/29 Atl; 4/5 Chi.
Away (7) – 3/18 NYR; 3/20 Min; 3/24 Bos; 3/30 Car; 4/2 NJ; 4/7 Ott; 4/9 Tor.