Montreal QC — As the inconsistent tap dance up and down the Eastern conference standings continues, the Montreal Canadiens find themselves on the cusp of facing their longest road trip of the year with a brand new head coach.
Over the final two weeks of December, the Canadiens will put their 8-6-1 away record to the test as they will play Boston, Chicago, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Florida to round out the 2011 year.
With only an abysmal five wins on home ice and with all the recent distractions that have transpired in Montreal with the firing of Jacques Martin, perhaps this road trip is exactly what the Canadiens need to turn their season around and solidify themselves with a better than .500 record.
Sounds nice, but the statistics don’t seem to overwhelmingly favour that optimism.
Since the lockout, the Canadiens are just a shade over .500 on that infamous December road trip mustering a 16-15-1 record and collecting 34 points out of a possible 62.
Here is a look at their opponents and record on the December road trip since the 2005-2006 season.
This will be the second time in seven years that the Canadiens will face the red-hot Boston Bruins as their first opponent of their holiday trip and will be the first time they face the Blackhawks. The Winnipeg Jets had some success in Atlanta jerseys, winning two out of the three games against the Canadiens in the month of December since the lockout.
The Canadiens have had their best success in Florida during this December trip playing in front of a “home” snow-bird crowd. Over the last seven years, the Canadiens have a combined 8-3 record against the Lightning and the Panthers. The most recent win in Florida in December saw the then newcomer, James Wisniewski notch his second goal of the game in overtime to give the Canadiens and their fans something to celebrate on New Year’s Eve.
One thing is certain, this six game swing will be a defining factor in the Canadiens’ ability to make the post-season in the 2011-2012 season. Such was the case in 2009-2010 when the Canadiens had their best performance ever on the road in December winning an impressive six games and collecting 12 valuable points which helped propel the team to the playoffs by the skin of their teeth and go on that magical ride to the Eastern Conference Finals.
With the Canadiens letting yet another lead evaporate against the Devils, dropping their 13th game in eighteen attempts on Bell Centre ice the team looks as fragile and as frustrated as ever. Perhaps a foreshadowing sign of improvement was the fact that the players seem to have finally started to hold each other accountable themselves having a closed-door, players only team meeting following the loss. It remains to be seen if the players have realized that their 2011-2012 season largely hangs in the balance of the upcoming six game swing.
Can Randy Cunneyworth get the best out of mostly underachieving players on the road and give fans some gift wrapped holiday cheer?
It’s make or break time.
Maybe a glass of egg nog will help.