BROSSARD – The Habs took advantage of a rare Sunday morning skate to hit the reset button and get back to what’s made them one of the best teams in the East all season long.
Originally scheduled as a day off in the Canadiens’ calendar, Sunday provided a perfect opportunity for the team to do some detail-oriented learning in a high-tempo practice. No stone was left unturned as the Habs worked on everything from defensive zone coverage and neutral zone forechecking to battles, breakaways and shot blocking.
With just a three-game road trip now standing between them and the postseason, the Canadiens are getting their fine-tuning in just in time for the opening playoff puck drop.
“Today was about us getting better. It wasn’t a punishment or anything like that,” explained P.K. Subban of Michel Therrien’s decision to call a practice following his team’s 5-1 loss to the Capitals. “It was about us getting back to doing the things that have made us successful. Sometimes you need to refresh your memory. The exciting thing about today is it’s another chance to get better and get ready for the next game. There’s a lot to play for right now and I think it’s about bringing our focus back to the forefront of exactly what we need to get focused on to be ready for the playoffs.”
Despite dropping four of their last five games and allowing 25 goals against since clinching a playoff berth on April 11, the Habs aren’t worried about their chances heading into the postseason. Having won 26 of their first 40 games of the year in convincing fashion, they’ve already found their formula for success; they just need to start following it to the letter.
“I think we’ve gotten away from a lot of the little details of the game – the little things within our game,” admitted Colby Armstrong, who received the green light from doctors and could return to the lineup as early as Tuesday night. “We’re not a fancy team; we’re not a pretty team. When you look at our team on paper, I think a lot of people at the start of the year had us counted out and I think we earned respect because we played a certain way and we played hard together and as a group. We were a frustrating team to play against because we did a lot of little things right within our system. We know what to do and we just have to get back to it.”
With two teams battling for their playoff lives and a division rival fighting for home ice advantage on tap for the final week of the regular season, the Canadiens aren’t expecting an easy ride down the home stretch. That suits Travis Moen just fine. After going just 5-3-2 in their final 10 games to close out the 2006-07 campaign, Moen and his Ducks teammates built some momentum in the waning days of the season and kept their foot on the gas all the way to a Stanley Cup championship that June.
“Teams that come in hungry and on a roll are teams that go far in the playoffs,” he explained. “We’ve got three games here to turn it around and get feeling good about our game again. Good teams are close teams and for us to be able to go on the road and go out for dinners together and stuff like that to get ready for the playoffs is a good thing. It’s just staying positive, getting things rolling and playing like we were the first 20 games. If we can do that, we’ll be fine.”
Overcoming obstacles can also help teams rise to playoff levels of urgency before the postseason begins. Going 4-5-2 in the final weeks of the 2009-10 regular season helped the eighth-seeded Habs claw their way to an Eastern Conference finals appearance. With the pressure of clinching already in their rearview mirrors, Subban knows how helpful some added incentive down the stretch can be for a team with deep playoff aspirations.
“Obviously it’s not fun and nobody likes to see this, but I think it’s good for us to face some adversity,” offered Subban. “I came here a little late [this season], but since I’ve been here it’s been pretty good coming to the rink every day and winning games and winning a lot more than losing. Right before the playoffs, I think it’s good for us to have a little edge.”
The team will practice on Monday at the Bell Centre before taking off for six day trip. They’re planning to return with six points and a first round date to look forward to.
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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