After nearly a week off, the Canadiens are back on the ice after going through COVID protocol. That time off will be crucial as the team has begun a stretch of 25 games in 43 days to finish out the season. The Canadiens sit fourth in the North Division, five and four points back from the Jets and Oilers respectively and only six points up on the Flames and Canucks who are tied at 35 points. The Habs hold three or four games in hand on the rest of their competition heading into a crucial stretch of the season. Will they catch up to the pack, or fall behind into a battle for the fourth and final playoff spot?
The Maple Leafs have led this division from start to finish thus far. They looked like they had the division wrapped up early but a recent skid has allowed the Jets and Oilers to make up some ground. The Jets who occupy the second spot in the North division had an up and down month of March with a 9-7-1 record. Their Jets struggle against the teams at the top, and beat the teams on the outside looking in. The Habs hold four games in hand against them and will need at least five points in those games to over take the Jets in the standings.
The Oilers are neck and neck with the Jets and they are basically being carried by their stars. The good news for the Canadiens is that they seem to have figured out the leagues top two scoring players, limiting them to a combined three assists in four games. Unfortunately that’s where the success in Alberta ends. After splitting an early season back to back, the Habs got Darryl Sutter’d as two of the Flames three wins with Sutter have come against the Habs.
The Canucks have been on a tear of late, having the best month of March in the North division which has brought them back into the playoff picture. Unfortunately for them, they have been shut down due to COVID and the team will be sidelined until April 6th. The Canucks and Flames both failed to make up any ground on the Canadiens while the team was shut down due to COVID. They had one win between them, going 0-2 and 1-4 respectively, giving the Canadiens free games in hand that the team has made the most of so far.
With the Habs back in action, what does the rest of their season look like as the playoff race heats up?
The Canadiens will have ample opportunity to make up ground on the teams ahead of them with 14 of their remaining games against the Leafs, Jets and Oilers. Their most important head-to-head will come against the Flames and this would be a great time to point out that the Canadiens took advantage of the Canucks at the right time. They have been a different team since being embarrassed by Tyler Toffoli. The four games remaining against the Senators will be anything but easy games as the Habs have struggled against them mightly this season.
Hockey teams (well sports teams in general really) love to compartmentalize and the home stretch for the Habs can be divided into three smaller segments. The first segment is the upcoming week, starting on Monday the Canadiens have a five game stretch, all against the teams ahead of them in the standings. First up is the Oilers followed by two games a piece against the Leafs and Jets. It goes without saying the importance of stringing a few wins together during this stretch as not only would they be gaining position in the standings, but they will keep a couple games in hand against these teams.
The second segment is what I will call the Alberta segment with seven of their eight games (April 14-26) are against the Flames (5) and Oilers (2). With no games left against the Canucks this season it will crucial for the Habs to create some separation between them and the Flames. Within this portion of the schedule, the Habs will embark on a five game road trip through Alberta which could be one of the most important road trips of the season. Coming out of Alberta with a couple wins will go a long way in solidifying a playoff spot for the Canadiens.
The third and final segment is one that fans from Montreal and Toronto alike have been anxiously been waiting for. The Habs and Leafs face each other four times in a week and a half to close out the season. Of course the Habs have two final games against the Oilers after their mini series with the Leafs, however one would hope that the Habs would have a playoff spot secured prior to these two games. The Habs and Leafs have yet to play back to back games against each other, the closest they came was a 7 day wait between games, at least for the Habs. Hopefully these four games in 11 days will foreshadow what is to come in the playoffs!
Coming off their COVID forced ‘break’, the Habs look like a team that has not missed a beat. While the team was sitting at home going through protocol, Bergevin went out and traded for Eric Staal and Cole Caufield which seems to have lit a fire under quite literally every bottom six forward. Guys like Lehkonen, Byron, and especially Jake Evans are making their cases to remain with the big club as the team is missing Staal, Caufield and Armia up front who will all certainly find their way into the starting line up.
In a tie for the second best Win Percentage (alright they are third by 0.001 but whose couting?) in the North, the Canadiens appear primed to make a run. If the Gally/Danault/Tatar line is back, along with the insertion of the new guys, there is no telling how far this team can go. I just really want a Habs vs Leafs playoff series.
As always do not forget to check out the rest of the Hot Sauce Family and check us out on Youtube! This week on Not Sauce For Work Peeze, Terry and Eagle discuss the Final Four, NFL news and the NBA Trade Deadline.