There have been dozens of theories as to why the Canadiens game has gone south. But there’s only one of them that makes any sense. The team is simply tired.
They’ll never admit it of course. Not to reporters. Not even to themselves. Conceding weariness is tantamount to admitting defeat.
From the beginning of the brief January training camp the Canadiens from front office to 23rd roster player the singular mission was a return to the playoffs. To that end, Michel Therrien put into place a physically demanding, high intensity checking strategy that compensated for lack of size by simply ganging up and outnumbering opponents.
It worked. A small team playing an aggressive big man’s game, regularly playing in four game weeks, the Canadiens still managed to reach their goal of a playoff berth with eight games remaining in their season. On the night they secured their playoff berth they were in the midst of a stretch of seven games in eleven nights. Five of those games came in the eight nights after the April 11th Sabres win. They managed to win only one of them.
But the price paid for playing that kind of hockey in a compressed schedule is exhaustion.
The first sign that fatigue has taken over is the play of the team’s core leadership. Brian Gionta, Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Markov have uncharacteristically become prone to mental mistakes. The accurate tape-to-tape pass sequences have became rare. As a team they are losing puck battles they regularly won in the season’s first 35 games. Their penalty killing over the last six games has been the worst in the league. Add it all up and the only answer is – fatigue. The Canadiens are currently going through a involuntary in-season battery recharge.
Michel Therrien and his coaches can see it. Therrien has done little bit of line shuffling in hopes the team will shake off the weariness but he seem’s resigned to the fact that he’s just going to have to ride this one out.
At this point, it should be noted that the Canadiens aren’t alone when it comes to late season struggles. The frustration level of Bruins fans is even higher than those of the Canadiens. They’re in the playoffs too but dealing with lost mojo.
Next week – The Playoffs. Second season. Second wind. I fully expect the Canadiens will find their way back to the energy levels that got them to the playoffs in the first place.