Be honest: It would be hilarious if Montreal missed the playoffs

Pick up any supermarket tabloid, and you'll find salacious tales of former stars rediscovered in a meth haze and embarrassing photos of sexual icons with beach flab. But you'll also find photos of cars you can't afford and houses you'll never live in and clothes that cost more than your car or your house.

There's always been a balance in our society between making idols and destroying them, especially when it comes to the privileged. We're a bunch of philosophical Robin Hoods: We can't literally steal from the rich, but we take what we can from their stature and status when the opportunity presents itself.

The Montreal Canadiens are Original Six royalty, as has been stressed and highlighted and stressed again during their centennial celebration. They're also a team in complete freefall, losing four games in a row and seven of their last nine. They've dropped two games in Alberta by a combined score of 13-4, including last night's 7-2 curb-stomping from the Edmonton Oilers.

They are, by all accounts, a playoff caliber team. But they're also just five points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes and the Pittsburgh Penguins, the ninth and tenth seeds respectively in the Eastern Conference.

It's time to admit that the Habs' place in the postseason isn't a divine certainty any longer; and to admit that missing the playoffs in the nostalgic orgy of a 100th anniversary celebration would be quite amusing -- unless you're a Habs fan or, like someone who edits a blog for Yahoo! Sports, they're your Stanley Cup pick.

Montreal had a players' only meeting after their loss to the Calgary Flames, and then went bowling before the Edmonton game as a tension breaker. Clearly, they should have put the bumpers up, because the tension was still there against the Oil.

As forward Christopher Higgins told the Montreal Gazette: "I thought the last game was the bottom of the barrel. I guess the barrel is a little deeper than we thought."

Montreal is second in the Northeast, two points up on the Buffalo Sabres. After they finish a murderous road trip next week -- they still visit Colorado, Vancouver, Washington and Pittsburgh -- the Habs will have 23 games remaining.

Here's why the potential for Montreal to miss the playoffs isn't that outlandish a concept: 11 of those 23 games are against current playoff teams. They have five games left against division dregs the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs, but we all know neither of them is rolling over for the Habs. Those games will be wars out of rivalry, but also because a slew of players are competing for jobs.

The good news is that Montreal plays 13 of those 23 games at home, where they've only lost six times in regulation this season.

Actually, we assume that's good news. The fact is that all the hoopla over the centennial might be catching up with the team, according to head coach Guy Carbonneau:

As to the strain caused by playing in a city caught up in a year-long celebration of the storied franchise, Carbonneau said: "Yes and no."

"We worked hard in the summer to make sure that they (activities) were going to stay at the minimum, that the players were going to be able to concentrate on hockey.

There are a lot of demands made of the players.

"But I think the biggest is the pressure and anticipation from the people. We had a good year last year and, from the start of the year, they saw us as Stanley Cup contenders and maybe we're not as good as they think we are."

Are they just not as good as many figured they'd be? Mirtle's wondering the same thing:

Quite honestly, Montreal hasn't impressed me much at all this season. Their 27-11-6 start was a bit of a mirage with so many key cogs struggling in major roles, including Kovalev's under 20-goal pace and the utter disappearance of Tomas Plekanec after his phenomenal 69-point season last year.

Even Carey Price, who had been phenomenal at times early on, has lost his way and is in a place that's eerily reminiscent of where he was during last season's playoff meltdown. We've heard so much about just how unflappable the 21-year-old 'tender is, but I expect that storyline has hit its end. His confidence is shot, plain and simple, and I think it's at the point where Gainey has to look for a veteran goaltender at the deadline.

In full disclosure, the Habs were my Stanley Cup pick this year, not only because they impressed the hell out of me last year but because I'm a sucker for storybook B.S. like winning in the centennial season.

But they're not the same team they were last season, for a myriad of reasons. Price's inconsistent play is one; injuries are another; the fact that Alexei Kovalev has been up and down like an freight elevator is a primary one as well.

Will they miss the postseason? Hard to say. Getting Alex Tanguay back from injury will certainly help. Seeing what, if anything, GM Bob Gainey does to address the loss of Robert Lang will be critical. (It should come as no surprise that we received our first Vinny-to-the-Habs e-mail since the All-Star Game yesterday.) Please remember that Price was lights-out for about a month late last year, and can still be that goalie if his head's on straight.

But it's panic time, and not just because Dennis Kane believes the only safe players in the system are "Carey Price, Robert Lang, PK Subban, Maxim Lapierre, Tom Kostopoulos, Max Pacioretti, and maybe Matt D'Agostini." The team needs to turn it around, and quickly.

If it doesn't ... well, it could cripple the unauthorized T-shirt industry in Montreal, which no doubt has warehouses of centennial championship gear ready to hit the market.

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