The Montreal Canadiens may be able to draw some inspiration and reassurance from the Stanley Cup-champion Detroit Red Wings.
True, the Original Six rivals are a league apart right now, but the path Detroit took to the NHL’s penthouse is not entirely different from the one Montreal is presently traversing in its attempt to get back among the league’s elite.
The Red Wings do everything better than the Canadiens, mostly because they have better players at every turn. However, there is overlap in the kind of players each team employs.
Like Detroit, Montreal is a Euro-heavy squad. Only one of the Habs’ top six forwards – Chris Higgins – is from North America. The Red Wings, depending on how they’re shuffling their lineup, sometimes have their top two lines entirely stocked with Euros. As it stands right now, nobody is going to mistake Tomas Plekanec for Henrik Zetterberg or Andrei Kostitsyn for Pavel Datsyuk. But don’t forget, Zetterberg and Datsyuk didn’t exactly leap toward glory.
The Wings endured a number of playoff failures in recent years and many observers seriously questioned whether Zetterberg and Datsyuk were the guys to push a team over the top. They were thought to be fantastic support players, but not leading men. It took time – and a lot of learning via losing - for them to grow into the role of go-to guys.
The same thing could be going on with Montreal’s young Europeans. Plekanec has taken big steps forward in every season he’s played and the next challenge for him is making an impact in the playoffs.
The Kostitsyn brothers, Andrei and Sergei, got their first taste of playoff action and now understand there’s a different level of commitment required to succeed in the spring. Some argue the boys from Belarus are too soft to thrive in grinding post-season hockey, but isn’t that what people were saying about Datsyuk spring after goalless spring? He seems to have made the adjustment just fine.
Like most teams in the NHL, the Canadiens are a long, long way from competing with Detroit. But the Habs can definitely feel good about the model the Wings used to recapture the Cup, because it at least has some parallels with their own blueprint.
This column also appears in the Montreal Metro newspaper.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears every second Friday.
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