Halak Named First Star of the Week as Habs Surprise with Back-to-Back Shutouts

Can someone please explain to me what happened to the Montreal Canadiens over this past weekend?

From losing 2-1 last Wednesday to what should be a lottery team in the Carolina Hurricanes (and subsequently having your own goalie, who was good enough to merit a 3rd star selection, booed out of the arena), to consecutive shutout victories against the Flyers and Sabres (and subsequently having the other goalie named the first star of the week in the entire NHL?)

Something doesn't quite add up here. Yes, there's the Jaroslav Halak factor, and yes, we've talked endlessly about how differently the skaters play in front of one goalie as opposed to the other. But the fact that one team can be so good one night and lose, so bad the next and win, and average on the another night and post a shutout is astonishing.

And heart-attack inducing.

I guess we shouldn't be all that surprised. This really isn't much different from the peaks and valleys we've seen from the Canadiens throughout the entire season. One night many Habs fans want to jump of one of Montreal's many traffic-laced bridges, the next they're proving everything in my blogs wrong by dominating teams they should probably be losing to.

As a blogger, it annoys me. Nearly every blog is discounted by the next performance, whether it's positive or negative. As a fan, it raises my blood pressure. Say all you want about the last two games. While the Canadiens have proven they can beat the best teams, and hang in tight with just about anyone in the league, the only thing that has been a constant is their rampant inconsistency. A 1-0 win against your direct competition and a 3-0 win against what could be your first round playoff opponent is all good, but it shouldn't give any Habs fan any real confidence. Not when it comes to the playoffs.

As nice as it is to see Jaroslav Halak at his best... as nice as it is to see the defense shutting things down and stopping the opposition from even having more than a few significant chances... as nice as it is to see the Canadiens get offensive support from guys like Sergei Kostitsyn, Dominic Moore, Tom Pyatt and all the rest.... when the dust clears, we all know that this isn't a cup contending team. We all know that the chances of seeing second or third round hockey in Montreal are minimal at best (and that's being generous).

I love playoff hockey, and to even see the Canadiens in four playoff games is a treat, but all a playoff berth does for this team is distract from the bigger issues that need to be tackled. Especially if this team and its ''new'' management wish them to be truly competitive in this, the NHL. A minimum of four games in the playoffs isn't going to magically get rid of the Scott Gomez contract. It's not going to change the fact that the coach's style doesn't reflect the players he's responsible for. It's not going to change the cap issues, or the goalie controversy that's just going to start again come next September. These are all issues that are going to exist whether the Canadiens only play 4 games in these playoffs, or 7, or 14, or even 21 or more.

But as I said at the very top of this blog, in regards to last Wednesday's loss... what can you do? What can we say? It is what it is. And the team you see before you today is for the most part the same team we're likely to see skate the Bell Centre ice next April, and the April after that.

We can only pray for the best. We can only pray that Michael Cammalleri is only getting started. That Scott Gomez can be the true ice general that we all know he can be, regardless of how much bigger his bank account gets with every paycheck. That Brian Gionta continues to play with a heart that's bigger than his entire 5'7'' body. That Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price continue to be amazing goaltenders (no matter who boos and cheers them). That Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges continue to lead this team without anyone really noticing.

Yes, we focus on the negatives, and yes, those negatives deserve to be brought to light. But Habs fans, take solace in the fact that there are positives, ranging from the players above, to the farm team in Hamilton that stands a good chance of winning their second AHL championship in just four years. And while the positives may not manifest themselves this year, in these playoffs, there is some hope. We simply need to take it one game, one period, one shift, even, at a time.

With that said, the Canadiens are on Long Island tomorrow to face the Islanders in the first of their last three games of the season. A win, combined with a Rangers loss, means the Habs are in the playoffs. And it means they don't have to worry too much about the torment in facing the Hurricanes on Thursday, and the Leafs on Saturday, two teams they have struggled mightily against in recent times.

Jaroslav Halak, named the first start of the week in the NHL because of those two shutouts, will certainly get the start, as barring something truly unforeseen, Carey Price has likely played his last game this season. Jacques Martin will look to get his first two lines going, as both have struggled since Mike Cammalleri returned from injury.

With only three games left, and the Canadiens all but officially in the playoff picture, we can only sit back and try to enjoy these last few games of the regular season. Expect much from TCL in anticipation of what's to come in the playoffs, in the coming days and weeks.

Prax
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