Canadiens Watch: Frantic holiday season will test Habs’ will

The holiday season is a hectic time for everyone, but this December is going to be particularly frenzied for the Montreal Canadiens.

The Habs begin the month Tuesday night by hosting their old rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs. The game marks the first of 17 contests the Canadiens will play over the next 31 action-packed days. It is also one of only six home games in this run for Montreal, which will play on the road 11 times in December, concluding the month with a seven-game trip.

Basically, we’re all about to find out what this team is really made of in a hurry.

The Canadiens begin this tough stretch with 12-12-2 record, putting them just outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Bet your bottom dollar that if you went to every member of the organization right now and said when this rigorous string of games is over, you’ll still be a .500 team, they’d ask, “Where do I sign?”

That not only speaks to how difficult the next few weeks are going to be, but it’s a reflection of the fact the Canadiens have to undertake this tough task without many of their key members, all of whom could be back in the lineup by the New Year.

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But for now, they have to deal with the reality of an NHL schedule condensed because of the two-week Olympic break in February; they have to find a way to overcome a crowded infirmary and maintain spitting distance from a post-season spot.

It’s going to take great goaltending from both Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak, thanks to the density of the games. It will require clamping down late in contests, not letting points get away the way they did by coughing up a lead with seconds to go against the Washington Capitals last Saturday night. And it will take offensive contributions from unlikely sources – guys like Sergei Kostitsyn and Max Pacioretty – to ease the burden on an overly taxed, undermanned defense corps.

That way, when the likes of Brian Gionta and Andrei Markov make their return to the lineup, there will still be something worthwhile to pursue after this team endures the most trying part of its season.

This article also appeared in the Montreal Metro newspaper.