It’s incredible how much perception can skew reality. In the case of the Montreal Canadiens, it’s becoming increasingly clear the lofty expectations many had for this team at the beginning of the season were completely out of whack.
Everybody has a theory on why the Canadiens are struggling these days, but the plain fact is they’re just not that good of a team. Because they came of the blue to top the Eastern Conference standings last year, it was assumed all they had to do was show up this season and that feat would be repeated. In truth, the Habs are a middle-of-the-pack club that should expect a life-and-death fight for a playoff spot.
Where’s the impact forward on this team? With the exception of the moments when Alex Kovalev decides to play, there hasn’t been one for a long, long time. Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak are two good young goalies, but have just more than 130 games worth of NHL experience between them. Andrei Markov is a great defenseman, but not a No. 1 stud around which to build a blueline corps.
All these facts somehow got lost in the hoopla of the Habs being back on the scene. It was so exciting to contemplate this proud, mighty franchise gunning for the Stanley Cup during its centennial season. We at The Hockey News sure got swept up in it, declaring at the season’s outset that the Canadiens would win the East once again.
But with all the ups and downs of this season – and really, there are too many to list – it’s time to accept the fact Montreal is a middling team and likely right where it should be in terms of the standings. Even if the players who are undeniably performing beneath their potential this year stepped up, the Canadiens still wouldn’t add up to a contender.
Fans who once envisioned a Stanley Cup parade in Montreal this summer would likely settle for the club securing a playoff berth this spring. And the way the team is playing right now, even that might be another case of optimism trumping reality.
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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