In evaluating the Montreal Canadiens' last two games (Buffalo on Friday and Toronto last night), the pessimist would argue that the Habs are showing signs of fatigue and that this is what is to be expected of the over-achieving young team. The optimist would argue that these games, with the exception of an extra point needed in order to clinch the Northeast, more or less don't have any implications and that the Habs are resting themselves for the big dance.
The realist, however is very concerned about the rash of injuries the "healthy until recently" Habs have incurred over this same span. While the Habs will be invited to the big dance, will they only be on one good leg?
As far as the last two games are concerned, the Canadiens didn't deserve to win either. One has to wonder if Buffalo's finest didn't detain the Canadiens for questioning after that utter robbery they pulled in the last 5 minutes of the game. The Habs, you'll remember, were trailing 3-1 with fewer than 4 minutes to play when Tomas Plekanec's power-play goal at 17:29 as well as his game tier with Goaltender Carey Price on the bench at 19:45 brought new life and an unexpected point to the Habs. Christopher Higgins went on to score the game winner from a beautiful feed from Mark Streit at the set up the 3:38 mark of OT.
One might argue that the Habs were resting on their laurels on Saturday as they were set to meet the already eliminated Toronto Mapleleafs as their play and overall enthusiasm seemed to mirror their effort of the previous night. Toronto went on and won the game 4-2 but it was not even as close as the score may suggest.
Hold on a second, where's Komisarek.... Koivu....Streit... Latendresse?? Answer : In order, Lower body injury- out for at least 3 weeks, unconfirmed broken foot-minimum 4 weeks out, lower body injury-to be confirmed, and neck spasms-day to day.
Add to this the fact that the excellent of late Francis Boullion left the game in the second with a foot injury after blocking a shot, as well as Brian O'byrne getting a well deserved game misconduct for pasting Jeremy Williams to the boards half way through the first period, and the Habs looked like a decimated bunch. Let's just say it wasn't their A team on the ice last night against a "nothing to play for but pride" Leafs team. And the Habs better hope they are fast healers.
One has to wonder if the 1st place in the East Canadiens can make any kind of cup run with the likes of Koivu, Streit and Komisarek out of the lineup for any lengthy stretch. Can the oft healthy scratched Mathieu Dandenault, Patrice Brisebois and Brian Smolinski lead them to the promised land? Can the youth, including Mikhail Grabovski and the Kostitsyn brothers step it up yet another notch? Can we ask any more of Alex Kovalev after his 2nd best season of his entire career?
Depending on the gravity and duration of all these recent injuries, the answer might have to be" All of the above" in order for the Habs to achieve any success in the 2008 playoffs. The good news in all of this is that the goaltending duo of Price/Halak is still in tact and the hopes of the team will surely rest strongly on those shoulders. The Habs will go as Price's play does. As it did on Friday when he kept them in it long enough (55 minutes) for the Habs to pull out a win.
Injuies will be assessed and disclosed this week and the Habs have what would have otherwise been considered an advantageous schedule as they get set to close off their regular season schedule with the Sens, Buffalo and Toronto. Although the Habs need only one point to secure the Northeast division as well as home ice advantage for the playoffs, and two of the 3 teams are eliminated, it would seem that the Habs are on easy street. They better watch that they don't hit any potholes... they can't afford to have any more injuries heading to the playoffs.