Canadiens Watch: Strong second half needed for post-season appearance

The Montreal Canadiens are about to embark on the final third of their season and, as usual, they have very little margin for error when it comes to qualifying for the playoffs.

After a nice all-star break, the Habs will play their first game in a week when they face the Washington Capitals Tuesday night in D.C. With 50 games behind them and 32 ahead, Montreal sits seventh in the Eastern Conference, just three points clear of the ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes, who are gunning for one of the playoff slots reserved for the top eight teams.

A Northeast Division title remains within reach, as the Boston Bruins lead Montreal by only four points in that race, but catching their ancient rivals is definitely a tall task for an injury-depleted Canadiens team.

Examining the season thus far, the two things that stand out most from a positive perspective for Montreal are the play of goalie Carey Price and the overall tenacity of the club.

The Habs desperately need Price to play up to the standard he set over the first two-thirds of the season, otherwise their fall from the post-season mix will be precipitous. And the collective competitive desire that’s enabled Montreal to squeak out a lot of close games will need to hit another level because, beginning with a three-game road trip through western Canada that kicks off Feb. 17, the Canadiens play 15 of their final 24 games away from home.

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On its own ice, Montreal has a strong 16-6-4 record, but it’s a much different story in enemy territory, where the club is just 11-12-1. Winning on the road is all about incorporating an added layer of grit and determination into your approach and the Canadiens will certainly have to dig deep to improve in that area.

The NHL’s trade deadline is less than a month away, but don’t expect the Habs to be very active on the swap scene. It will be up to every player on the roster right now to push hard down the home stretch, because a playoff berth is anything but assured.

This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.