The Montreal Canadiens begin the second half of their season Tuesday against a team they never expected to be chasing for a division title, the Boston Bruins.
The first half of the season was really a tale of two quarters for Montreal.
The Canadiens had a good start to the year - points-wise, but a lot of players they counted on to score goals struggled. That caught up with the Habs in November, when they won just six of 14 games.
Ironically, it wasn’t until the injured bodies started dropping that the Canadiens picked things up. In the absence of captain Saku Koivu, goalie Carey Price, point-producer Alex Tanguay and two-way winger Chris Higgins, the remaining Habs have come together and become a much tougher team to play against.
For Montreal to have a strong second half of the season, a few things need to happen. First of all, you have to believe the worst is behind them in terms of injuries. It’s critical the guys who’ve upped their play with increased responsibilities don’t fade into the background once the stars return.
Maxim Lapierre has really hit his stride as of late, along with linemates Tom Kostopoulos and Guillaume Latendresse. They’ll get less ice time when Koivu, Tanguay and Higgins return, but must continue to make the most of the minutes they do get.
It’s also critical some of the scorers who have only recently come to life, drastically improve on their first-half totals. Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn and his brother, Sergei, have all started making contributions that are much more in line with what was expected from them all along. They must keep it up.
Beyond Andrei Markov, the Habs don’t have another blueliner who contributes a significant amount of offence. There are rumblings in Toronto the Maple Leafs could move Tomas Kaberle. He may be having a down year, but Kaberle has been a consistent offensive performer over the course of his career and he could help the Habs tremendously as a member of its second-best defense pair.
The Canadiens have a lot of quality prospects and if the Leafs aren’t asking for too many of them, Montreal should pull the trigger on a deal.
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 Fridays.
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