PHILADELPHIA -- Eight games and 14,000 kilometers later, the Canadiens are finally heading home.
Returning to Montreal with just four of a possible 16 points in their luggage, the Habs are hoping a more familiar change of scenery will turn their fortunes around in 2016 following a difficult month of December.
“It’s going to feel good to be back home, in front of our fans, following a couple of tough games on the road,” acknowledged Montreal-native Mark Barberio, who has yet to play in front of his friends and family since signing in his hometown over the summer.
But with the Canadiens mired in a streak which saw the team drop 12 of its last 15 games, captain Max Pacioretty just wants to see some wins, regardless of which area code they come in.
“We came out flat and there’s no excuse for that. We were just home for two-and-a-half days, so it felt like a new road trip. We had a couple of breaks in between, so it didn’t feel like an eight-game trip. They outworked us early and there’s no excuse for that,” stressed the 27-year-old. “We’re always in the spotlight in Montreal, so the distractions that surrounded the Winter Classic are not an excuse either. We’ve got to start feeding off of the spotlight in the right way.”
Just like the Winter Classic on January 1 rang in 2016, Tuesday’s game in Philly -- the Canadiens’ 41st of the 82-game NHL calendar -- marked the end of the first half of the regular season, signaling a fresh start of its own.
But while a New Year often brings with it resolutions, the goal for the Habs remains the same.
“Our goal for the next 41 games is the same as it was for the first 41 -- to make the playoffs,” underlined assistant captain P.K. Subban.
Another member of the team’s captaincy core built upon that sentiment.
“If you look at the standings right now, we can’t afford any mental lulls in our game. We were outplayed in the first 30 minutes tonight, and the damage was done,” added Brendan Gallagher, who returned from a 17-game absence on January 1 and now counts two goals in his last two outings. “If we’re playing our style of hockey and using our speed like we’ve shown we can, there’s not much other teams can do against us.”
Indeed, there are still a number of positives the Canadiens can take with them down the final stretch of the regular season.
For starters, the club has scored 117 goals so far this season, six more than at the same point a year ago -- and sits near the top of the League standings in that category. The team is also in a similar second-place tie atop the Atlantic Division standings, just five points back of the Florida Panthers despite a seven-point deficit over the midway mark in 2014-15.
The play of Pacioretty and Gallagher meanwhile, are another pair of bright spots.
Although Gallagher’s latest contributions have been obvious on the scoresheet, Pacioretty for his part has also racked up five points in his last four outings after earning just two between December 3 and 22.
And if a return to friendlier confines is the missing link towards a return to form for a Habs team which began the year with nine consecutive wins, then that theory will be put to the test as soon as Wednesday night when the New Jersey Devils visit the Bell Centre in the first of three games at home.
Steven Nechay is a writer for the canadiens.com
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The Numbers Game: January 5, 2016
Number 45 in the 514
One gain, one loss