The Montreal Canadiens are back from the road, but they can’t let off the gas for one second.
The Habs had a highly productive start to post-Olympic play, taking six of a possible eight points in four games as the visitor, including an always-tough trip through California to face San Jose, Los Angeles and old friend Saku Koivu in Anaheim.
What the Canadiens – who are in a desperate fight to nail down one of the Eastern Conference’s eight playoff spots – cannot do is have any kind of let down now that they’ve returned home.
Just as teams have a tendency to sag at certain points of the game, intensity can lag at parts in the schedule and the first contest back at home after a successful road trip is a prime example of a trap game.
Montreal plays seven of its remaining 10 games in March at home and won’t see another Western Conference team after facing the lowly Edmonton Oilers on Thursday. That means the Canadiens completely control their own post-season destiny.
Chances are it will be up to the top line of Scott Gomez between Brian Gionta and Benoit Pouliot to continue to carry the mail. Maligned for so much of the year, Gomez has come alive, notching 12 points in his past 10 games.
He has always been able to carry the puck through the neutral zone with speed, but earlier this year he wasn’t doing much with it once he arrived in the offensive zone. Now he’s laying passes to Gionta and Pouliot that are consistently being converted.
Gionta has goals in his past three contests, while Pouliot has put up two goals and four points in four games since the break after missing a handful of contests before the Olympics with an upper-body injury.
Winning three of four games on a demanding jaunt away from home is great for a team, but it won’t mean much if the Habs give those points right back with lackluster efforts at the Bell Centre.
They’ve been the road warriors; now it’s time to play the role of unfriendly host.
This article also appeared in the Montreal Metro newspaper.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursday and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesday.
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