The Bruins can allow Marc Savard’s bad news distract them at their own risk.
Because if they’re not focused on the on-ice task at hand by Wednesday night, they might have company atop the Northeast Division.
Despite their 4-1 loss to New Jersey yesterday, the Montreal Canadiens are still one of the hotter teams in the NHL since the calendar turned to 2011. The Habs are 10-3-3 in ’11, while the Bruins are 10-6-1 since the same date.
More important, the Habs are just two points back of the Bruins for first place and have dominated Boston with wins in all three of the head-to-head meetings. While many point to Boston’s late-game Jan. 8 collapse at Montreal as a turning point for the better in the Bruins’ season (they’re 9-4-0 since that dreadful night), that dramatic victory was just a small part of a major Montreal turnaround.
As Arpon Basu of CTV.ca points out, the Habs finished the 2010 portion of the schedule with points in just two of 10 games. In dissecting the reasons the Habs have made some hay since ’11 opened, Basu writes:
The Canadiens were a pretty respectable 7-4-2 in one-goal games going into the game in Florida, but since they are 8-0-3. When trailing after a period they were 0-11-0, but since they are 4-2-1. Opponent scoring first? They were 3-12-0, but since they are 7-3-2. Also, back then the Canadiens had been outscored 32-26 in the third period, but they’ve won the third period battle 12-8 ever since.
Each of those numbers suggest a distinct change in culture on the Canadiens, one that was best described as fragile during that brutal December stretch, but one that now exudes mental toughness.
As Basu also points out, the special teams have been consistent. (The power play is 0-for-22 over the last five games). So that’s one weakness the Bruins might want to exploit. If Boston forechecks well, I’d say they’ll be able to take advantage of a Canadiens defense that’s relying on former Bruins backliner Hal Gill as a de facto No. 1 defenseman in the absence of the injured Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges. Gill made the gaffe that helped New Jersey build its lead yesterday.
The Bruins have done well the last couple seasons to not lick their wounds and instead march on in the face of injury adversity — be it the loss of Patrice Bergeron, Marco Sturm or Savard. They’ll have one more day of practice before game day, while Montreal has two days to prepare for the big Wednesday night match-up. The difference between first and second in the division could be the difference between third and sixth or worse in the conference, so a lot is on the line between the Bruins and Habs.
We’ll find out Wednesday if the Bruins’ ’11 turnaround translates to finally beating the Habs, or if Boston will continue to be Montreal’s road kill.