Bartlett: Canadiens miss out on chance to make up ground

John Bartlett
2/20/2012 5:34:35 PM
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MONTREAL - During a playoff drive, there are only so many opportunities you get to try and make up ground. For the Canadiens, Sunday night's game against the Devils was one of them, and they let it slip away. While it's far from over, the playoff chase certainly is not any easier as a result.
Thanks to some help on the out-of-town scoreboard on Saturday night, the Habs had the opportunity to close to within four points of the Leafs for 8th in the Eastern Conference, but were stymied by Martin Brodeur and the Devils. As a result of a Jets win, the Habs remain six points back of both Toronto and Winnipeg, while four of the five teams in front of them hold at least one, if not two games in hand.
Following an off-ice soccer game and optional skate in Brossard, the players admitted that they dropped the ball, but were quick to focus on a Tuesday night home game against the Dallas Stars to try and keep their playoff hopes alive.
One thing the Canadiens do have going for them is a series of games against the teams they are chasing down the stretch. The Habs will face Washington, Tampa Bay and Toronto twice, while they have the Islanders one more time at home.
For a team that has gone on a 5-2-1 run over the last eight games, it provides some optimism. A key part to the recent success has been the improved power play, which has scored in six of the last eight games going 7-for-23 in that stretch, which is a 30.4% success rate.
Randy Cunneyworth, who has a 10-8-3 record as head coach since the start of the calendar year, says the success has come from quick puck movement and finding the right seams.
With the trade deadline looming, and Hal Gill already moved to Nashville, it is providing an interesting time for the team as they continue to battle down the stretch drive, while waiting to see who else might be moved out of town. Although, when asked about making personnel decisions based on what players might be here for the longer haul, he joked saying "I think I'm more like a dog. I think in the present and what's important right now, I really do." While he didn't elaborate on which breed he might be, it certainly had the media playing a fun guessing game following his media conference.
Cunneyworth did say that Carey Price will get the lion's share of work down the stretch and Peter Budaj's game action will be based on the physical and mental rest of Price.
Montreal must now start this week with the same fresh approach they did last weekend, and try to build on their momentum. They will hit the road for a Friday game in Washington before heading south to the Sunshine State for a pair of games against the Panthers and Lightning, with trade deadline day sandwiched in between.
One of the concerns of trading Gill was a lost voice of leadership in the dressing room. While it is well documented how Gill was a mentor to P.K. Subban, he also was a steady voice to the team in the room; one that many players notice is gone.
In conversation with Yannick Weber, he noted that Josh Gorges has stepped up his leadership role, along with Erik Cole. He also mentioned that Ryan White has become a voice heard in the room more often since his return, yet despite the increased responsibility for all these players, there is still a void when it comes to telling jokes. The humour department has certainly become Nashville's gain. 
Meanwhile on the injury front, Petteri Nokelainen has rejoined practicing with the team and looks to be first back from sick bay. Travis Moen appears to have suffered a setback and his status heading into the trade deadline is uncertain. He will not be available for any games this week and Cunneyworth added "Moen is going to be a little bit longer".
Andrei Markov will join the Canadiens on the upcoming road trip. The plan is to ease him into non-contact practices. While there is still no timetable for his return, it's a sign of progress to join the team and start working on drills again. It was at this point last time Markov had joined the team on their road trip to California, where he was pulled off the ice and had his knee scoped.
And finally, the Canadiens, as usual, were all class in their honouring of former Montreal Expo and Hall of Famer Gary Carter on Sunday. The sweaters in which the Habs wore during the warm-up will be autographed and auctioned off with the money going to the Gary Carter Foundation. The tribute to honour Carter was well done, but the finest element to top it all off, was to see Youppi! come out on the ice wearing his original Expos uniform; memories of a time gone by that still sits fresh in the hearts of many Montrealers.
Merci pour les souvenirs, Gary!
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