The longest undefeated string in 20 years for the Montreal Canadiens has been snapped at 11 games, two things immediately come to mind: 1) blame the goalie, and 2) everybody panic! True, Carey Price has not looked his usual self in his past two starts – he has given up 12 goals in his last six periods against Pittsburgh and the New York Islanders.
Go back a little further, and the picture isn’t much brighter, he allowed 14 goals and put up an .880 goal percentage in the five starts leading into Tuesday night.
And hey, have you heard Dustin Tokarski has a .960 save percentage in six starts in Hamilton?
Repeat after me Habs Nation: you can’t pin this stuff on the goalie, life is not that simple.
Price’s skills haven’t evaporated, he will be fine.
True, his body language isn’t great – in Uniondale he looked a little lost – but he’s not the only one.
Anyone remember the last time Andrei Markov gave the puck away twice in a shift and then brilliantly recovered by falling over with no one else around him?
The fact is the Canadiens have been breaking down defensively more and more often in the past week, the warning signs have been evident, as some hack reporter pointed out here .
Still, the Canadiens remain in first place, mostly because Boston has forgotten how to win games they happen to be leading in the third period, but it’s a ragged time in the league, what with all the injuries and teams reaching the meaty part of their schedule (Montreal is playing all its games this week on the road).
Measured on a long enough timeline, consistency becomes impossible to achieve.
That’s true of life, so why shouldn’t it be true of the NHL?
Everyone has good days and bad, it’s just that over the past month – and it has been almost a month since the Canadiens lost in regulation – the bad days have still ended with a “W” or an overtime point.
So now comes a test of sorts, as Montreal heads into Carolina, Tampa and Sunrise, Fla., to close out a stretch of six games in eight days (the Islanders loss was their third in four nights).
If the NHL has learned anything about the Canadiens this season, it’s this group of players isn’t the emotional basket-case of a year ago.
The Habs haven’t lost more than three straight this season – following a four-game win streak in the first two weeks.
The level of consistency the Habs have displayed to this point has been bested only by Chicago and Anaheim, even a reduced level keeps them in the argument for a home seed in the playoffs.
Getting Raphael Diaz and Rene Bourque back into the lineup at some point should help – neither is close from returning from their respective concussions – particularly in managing Markov’s ice time and putting Brandon Prust with the muckers rather than on a scoring line.
One would also think they’ll figure out how to kill penalties again at some point – they allowed two power-play goals against New York.
And there are bright spots.
Defenceman P.K. Subban is rounding into form, he has two goals and five points in his last four games and 13 points in 17 overall.
The goal production from forwards is also still ticking over; Tomas Plekanec now has 10, Brian Gionta has scored four of his seven goals in the last four games.
And the Habs don’t get blown out – they clawed back a two-goal deficit in Long Island before ultimately losing.
In a town starved for a winner, the current streak has raised expectations, if the Habs were a stock market, there would be talk of a bubble and irrational exuberance.
But there’s no sense in holding a group of hockey players to a higher standard than anyone else when it comes to the ratio of good days to bad days.
The fact is the Habs are already exceeding any reasonable expectation, and the fundamentals suggest they’ll continue to do so and qualify for the playoffs.