The Montreal Canadiens are about to find out exactly what they’re made of.
At times this season, the Canadiens have looked like a team that can compete with any squad in the Eastern Conference. They’ve also had spells where they resemble a club that would be lucky to scratch out a playoff berth.
The direction of Montreal’s season is going to be determined by how the team plays during a rough patch in its schedule over the next month. Including Monday night’s game in Calgary, the Habs will play 10 of their next 13 games on the road and are currently on a six-game trip. They’ll see Eastern rivals like Washington and Philadelphia, NHL powers like San Jose and soft touches like Colorado and Atlanta, where the Canadiens absolutely, positively have to pocket all the points up for grabs.
The first key to Montreal’s future is goaltending. Forget the injuries, trade talk and anything else you can imagine. It’s time for Carey Price to prove he’s capable of carrying this team. He’s a young goalie who has shown glimpses of his enormous potential, but on too many occasions Price has allowed questionable goals that have deflated his team. Bob Gainey showed a lot of faith in Price when he traded Cristobal Huet away at last year’s trade deadline. Maybe the GM moved prematurely, maybe not. Either way, Price has been the Habs’ No. 1 for almost a year and it’s time for him to step up.
The Canadiens are also going to have to show more gumption as a whole. Winning road games is about having the gusto to knock another team down in its own house and Montreal must show it’s capable, as a group, of giving a collective shove back when a team is trying to bully them around.
It also goes without saying the Habs need more out of some of their forwards, namely Alex Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec.
If the team doesn’t grow together during the next few weeks, it will spend the final month of the season sweating out a playoff spot instead of getting primed for what many anticipated would be a Stanley Cup run.
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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