The knock on the Montreal Canadiens has long been that they’re not tough enough to be taken seriously in the rough-and-tumble hockey world.
True, the Habs won’t soon be a team that reminds anyone of the 1975 Philadelphia Flyers and their lack of size at forward does somewhat limit the scope of how they score goals, because it’s tough for them to dominate the offensive boards and sustain a strong cycle.
But don’t for a moment think Montreal isn’t a scrappy group. More specifically, the Canadiens have demonstrated a mental toughness that’s served them well through a slew of injuries to key players. The list of wounded Habs has been swelling for weeks, but the team continues to find ways to bank points and maintain a playoff position. Montreal’s interior resiliency began to resonate during last year’s playoff run and it has carried over to this season.
It’s easy to underestimate how much of hockey is between the ears and in the case of the Canadiens, they deserve credit for the fact every player has a firm understanding of what’s expected from him and how he fits into the broader system. Mental toughness is about knowing your job and sticking to the game plan even when things seem to be going awry. It’s also about not reaching for excuses when it would be easy to blame a lack of success on an unlucky string of injuries.
That hasn’t happened with the Habs.
There is one area the Canadiens need to make better decisions in and it involves how regularly they’re banished to the penalty box. Entering Monday night’s games, Montreal had been whistled for 327 minor penalties this year, more than any other club except the Pittsburgh Penguins. The New Jersey Devils, who play a similar checking style to Montreal, had the fewest minors in the NHL with 226. There’s no reason a team that’s as fast as the Habs needs to be bending the rules so frequently to try and gain an advantage.
And if they get that one through their heads, they’ll really have a mental edge.
This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.