Despite their talented roster, Montreal's sputtering start to the New Year saw them drop game after winnable game. As they fell in the standings, the Canadiens began to appear distracted and short on confidence. A playoff spot was suddenly no longer a certainty.
Then things began to get rough. Their goaltending prodigy, Carey Price, went south with a case of netminding heebie jeebies. GM Bob Gainey, in a desperate move to snap enigmatic Alexei Kovalev out of his malaise, awarded the All-Star winger a forced two-game sabbatical to get his head straight.
And to toss a nice little wrinkle Gainey's way, La Presse connected several members of the team to an alleged member of an organized crime ring who had recently been snapped up in an organized crime police sting.
Holy Sam Pollock!!!
The media floodgates opened and the process of dissecting a dying season began.
Not so fast. Amid the doom and gloom stood a team in fifth place in the conference, a mere two points behind fourth place Philadelphia. The return of the talented Kovalev led to a lovefest and a subsequent two-game winning streak. Price's replacement for the time being, Jaroslav Halak, has emerged as a viable option and competitor to the No. 1 job. And the recently acquired Mathieu Schneider has been a jolt of caffeine for the sleepy power play.
Best of all, the morass of problems has provided coach Guy Carbonneau with an opportunity to play one of the best cards in a coach's hands: THE US AGAINST THE WORLD card. it's a card my colleague, Don Cherry, played
with amazing timing.
I can hear Guy know: "Listen, boys, we know what we are up against. The media is crawling up our backs. The fans are irate. The owners and GM are deeply concerned. Alexei, they all say you're done.
Carey, you can't possibly make it any more, right? The rest of the league thinks we're on our way to an early grave. You know what? Let's screw 'em all and go on a tear here. No one outside these four walls gives a
damn. Screw it. Let's just play for each other."
Playing for each other has always worked for the Canadiens. Carbonneau knows the pressure of the circus in Montreal ... and he knows the city's passion.
Time to teach the next wave of Canadiens. It's as good a time as any.
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