A Tale of Two Seasons
You can split the Habs' season in two. In their first 16 games, they went an astonishing 12-4. During this streak Jose Theodore was playing poorly. Many observers said, "If they're tearing up the league now, just wait until Theo is at the top of his game!"
Then, in game #17 against the Penguins Sidney Crosby scored his most famous goal in his young NHL career to give the Pens a shootout win. Since then, the Habs have gone 4-11. Tomorrow night's game versus the Ottawa Senators should push that record to 4-12, to perfectly mirror the first half.
What the Hell happened? How does a .750 team turn into a .250 team this fast? Needless to say, Theo has not found his game. There have been injuries - Kovalev has missed 13 games. Bonk, Koivu, Bulis and Souray have all missed time. Markov was suspended for three games for venting his frustrations on a linesman. Then the ensuing defense debacle. And on top of all that, the flu has struck the team.
Excuses aside, the team just has not been playing well. There have been flashes of the early season effort (the pair of OT losses to the Leafs, the recent win over Phoenix), but overall their skating and confidence have not been the same. Even without their top two forwards, this team should be able to scratch and claw it's way to .500 hockey against inferior opponents. That said, winning three out of every four games is not a reasonable expectation of this club even when healthy. A .600 win% is reasonable. If they pull that off for the rest of the year a playoff spot should be a sure thing, but the recent slump will probably cost the Habs home ice in the first round.
[Update: Kovalev, Theodore, Plekanec and Zednik will probably not be in the lineup against Ottawa tomorrow. Just keep it close, boys...]