Canadiens Watch: Olympic break provided much-needed rest for stretch drive

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There’s a lot of pressure on the Montreal Canadiens these days.

Forget trying to claim that last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Habs have to worry about finding a way to hold the interest of fans who’ve just been treated to two weeks of tremendous hockey at the Olympics in Vancouver.

Sidney Crosby and the boys set the bar pretty high, wouldn’t you say?

All right, so we all know the onus is actually on the rest of us to re-calibrate our expectations to NHL-level hockey, something I’m sure we can accomplish after a game or two.

For the Canadiens, there must be an immediate sense of urgency because they begin the post-Olympic stretch run with a tough four-game road trip that begins Tuesday in Boston, then swings through the west coast for three stiff tests in San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim.

The good news for Montreal is it was in desperate need of the Olympic hiatus and should be in a better position to win some hockey games than it was before the NHL hit pause.

First of all, a couple of key players are set to return, which should help the team become more offensively engaged. Andrei Kostitsyn hasn’t played since injuring his knee in a Dec. 31 game versus the Florida Panthers. Kostitsyn was finding success on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri prior to his injury and the Canadiens desperately need his skill back on the ice.

Also expected to return up front is Benoit Pouliot, whose presence adds a nice finishing touch to the No. 1 line of Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta. Pouliot missed the last five games before the break with the ever-popular upper-body injury and his absence knocked much of the teeth out of what had become a fairly effective top line.

The only major offensive weapon coach Jacques Martin must still go on without is Cammalleri, who is expected to miss a couple more weeks with his knee injury.

Still, the Canadiens enter the final playoff battle with a lineup that’s more intact than it’s been in a while. Now it’s up to the players to prove those bodies aren’t just healthy, but capable, too.

This article also appeared in the Montreal Metro newspaper.

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursday and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesday.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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