The Engels Angle: Habs Upcoming Schedule Will be Truer Test of Their Ability
By Eric Engels
Published Tuesday, January 4, 2011 11:33AM EST
After two strong performances against the Panthers and Thrashers, the Canadiens will spend the next couple of days preparing for the main course; dates with the Pittsburgh Penguins, a very surprising New York Rangers team and a Boston Bruins team that's three points ahead in the standings.
Carey Price has the next couple of days to erase the tough bounces and sub-standard performances from memory so he can get back to the level that saw him win 19 games this season. With the schedule as tough as it seems, rest assured that Price will carry the load.
Speaking of carrying the load, Scott Gomez has done an adequate job considering 12 points in his last 10 games. But with Gomez on top, the Canadiens have just three wins over that stretch.
Gomez's success seems to have coincided with a drying of the well for Montreal's bottom six forwards. Of the 22 goals scored in the last 10 games, Mathieu Darche and Maxim Lapierre account for two of them.
The impact of that fact has seen the Canadiens defence core stimulate more offence than is generally expected from them -- perhaps at the cost of solid defensive play --
which Montreal's system is built on.
And while Gomez has been great for ten games, his linemates have produced at a second line capacity; Gionta with five goals and no assists, Pacioretty with two goals and three assists. Can't ask for much more, considering that Gomez-Gionta-Pacioretty are the team's second line.
As for their first line, Tomas Plekanec had three goals and three assists while Michael Cammalleri only scored twice. Andrei Kostitsyn recorded a goal and two assists, and was benched extensively over the last 10 games.
So when Carey Price says "it begins with me" he's certainly right, but it doesn't end with him.
Sunday's loss against the Thrashers was a rare instance in which Price's team managed three goals and he didn't end up on the winning side of the ice. The more the Canadiens struggle to find offensive balance and consistency, the harder it is for Price to get back on track.
Time to see how far character can take this team. If they don't find a way to score more goals they better find a way to keep more of them out of Carey Price's net. Knowing Jacques Martin, he'll stress the importance on the defensive side of the puck, because if the Canadiens are strong in the areas in which they were built to be strong in it should help them counteract their weaknesses.
Trader Pierre has done good work in the last week, bringing in James Wisniewski and parting ways with Maxim Lapierre. More changes are imminent for the Canadiens.
As for reverting to their system, there's no question that the performances against Florida and Atlanta helped build the team's confidence a bit. That will help them get back to the basics that had them rolling before this ugly stint of games.
Effort will have to be at it's peak for the Canadiens to enjoy success against playoff teams like the Penguins, Rangers and Bruins. Enjoying success against such quality opponents puts them right back on the track they've been looking for over the last three weeks.