After coming out if the gates on fire, the Montreal Canadiens have cooled off over their last two games. They’re still seventh in the Eastern Conference and only four points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for that top spot overall, but the Habs have been lacking one very necessary ingredient over the last few weeks.
They’re small. Noticeably small and easy to push around out on the ice.
While in years gone by that high level of “small skill” has been by design, it’s been a fluke so far in 2013-14. Montreal should be bigger and tougher than they appear right now, and will eventually be a stronger team than they are showing.
As fate would have it, nearly every one of their bigger-bodied players have gone down with an injury of some kind. If you’re a Canadien and you have any element of sand paper to your game, you’re probably on the IR at the moment. Aside from Daniel Briere, the four other Montreal regulars that are out are sizable and tough to play against.
Brandon Prust is expected back by the middle of November, and brings plenty of grit and a touch of skill to the ice on a nightly basis. George Parros isn’t a blast to play against either, and is capable of laying massive body checks or using his fists when the need arises.
Then there’s Alexei Emelin. He was one of the most frequent hitters in the NHL last season, and will be a boon to Montreal’s hurting blue line once he’s fit to return. Up front and desperately missed is Max Pacioretty. He’s expected to miss up to three weeks, and his power-game will be sorely missed for that duration of time.
You may catch a Montreal game in the coming weeks and be tempted to think that this is the same shrimpy skill team. Don’t be fooled though. The Habs are like Megatron in waiting, and will have more than enough grit once they start to get players back from injury.