Hands up if you can tell me the only two teams in the NHL working on six-game winning streaks.
Yes. The Montreal Canadiens would be one of them. But you knew that.
If you said the Phoenix Coyotes as the other, then you can go to the head of the class.
The Habs and the Coyotes are the two most successful teams since the Olympic break. The Canadiens made it six in a row last night with a 3-1 victory over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. You would have thought that the Rangers, fighting for their playoffs lives, would have shown up. But they didn’t. As a result, the Rangers remain in ninth place in the East: seven points back of the Canadiens.
That’s what happens when you win a good, old-fashioned four–pointer. Because as impressive as the view might be for the Canadiens from sixth place, what’s more impressive, to me, is the fact that the Habs have opened up some major daylight between them and the teams that are currently on the outside looking in, when it comes to the playoff picture.
What a breath of fresh air it is to see the Canadiens playing winning hockey at a time when every point is huge. It’s a far cry from the scenario the Habs found themselves in, one year ago, when they managed to squeeze into post-season play by the slimmest of margins, only to fall flat on their faces against the Boston Bruins en-route to a first-round blowout.
You remember last season, don’t you? Alex Kovalev and company?? A team that ultimately secured a spot in the playoffs “thanks” to the single point obtained in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Bruins in Boston in the second-last game of the regular season. The Canadiens would lose their last game, 3-1 to Pittsburgh, but would scrape through as a result of Florida’s inability to win a hockey game in the final hours of regular-season action.
Here we are, a tumultuous year later, and the Canadiens are on the verge of doing themselves a huge favour. Last night’s win moved them a step closer to mathematically clinching a playoff spot, with 11 games to go.
What a refreshing change.
What’s also important to note is the fact that although teams like the 7th-place Flyers, 8th-place Bruins an 9th-place Rangers continue to own games in hand on the Canadiens, those games, and opportunities for points, are slipping away.
The Rangers now only have one game in hand on Montreal. The Bruins and Flyers have two games in hand. Which is fine and dandy. But you have to win those games.
One team that isn’t “winning those games” is the Ottawa Senators. What on earth has happened to that hockey team?!?! The Sens still have a game in hand on the Canadiens. But while the Habs have been busy winning seven of their last 10 games, the Sens have been busy LOSING seven of their last 10 games — including their last three in a row. As a result, the Habs find themselves just one point back of Ottawa.
The Buffalo Sabres are another team struggling to win hockey games of late. Winners of just four of their last 10, the Sabres have managed to play .500 hockey during that stretch only because of two overtime/shootout losses, putting them at 4-4-2 during that stretch. It’s interesting to note that if the playoffs began today, the 6th-place Canadiens would open against the 3rd-place Sabres.
But, then again, the Habs are only four points back of the Sabres.
Two weeks to go in the regular season. So little time, so many possibilities. My suggestion to you? Keep that pocket calculator handy.