Shall we indulge in a bit of not-so-irrational exuberance?
Before the season began, I figured it would be prudent to hold off on judgement until 20 games had been played.
But let’s make the call after 16:
Your Montreal Canadiens are a pretty good hockey team.
With a struggling power play and negligible contributions from Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez, the team is 10-5-1.
Late last night, HardHabits posted something he’d found on TSN’s Comments board:
I’m a Sens fan. Montreal is very clearly buying in to what Jacques Martin is selling. He did this for years in Ottawa and now he’s doing it in Montreal. His defensive system is by far one of the best in the NHL. Montreal is playing 100% like a team every single game. No individuals over there. How else could they overcome such a brutally slow start from both Gomez and Gionta. (source: http://tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=340769) “The one thing that always killed Martin when he coached the Sens,” HardHabits added, “was he never had the goaltending needed to go all the way. Guess what?” Guess what, indeed!
I’m a Sens fan. Montreal is very clearly buying in to what Jacques Martin is selling. He did this for years in Ottawa and now he’s doing it in Montreal. His defensive system is by far one of the best in the NHL. Montreal is playing 100% like a team every single game. No individuals over there. How else could they overcome such a brutally slow start from both Gomez and Gionta. (source: http://tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=340769)
“The one thing that always killed Martin when he coached the Sens,” HardHabits added, “was he never had the goaltending needed to go all the way. Guess what?”
Guess what, indeed!
Carey Price was excellent again in Boston. He hasn’t had a bad start this season.
Only Cam Ward (who’s at the Bell Centre tomorrow night) and Jonas Hiller have faced more shots. Price has stopped 92.3 per cent of them.
He has the second-best GAA in the Eastern Conference (thanks, Andrew Berkshire). Price’s positioning and lateral displacement are flawless. He is seeing everything, stopping everything … and five skaters are helping it happen.
Carey Price gives the Canadiens a chance to win in every game.
And Martin’s system has made them air-tight and competitive.
Only one team in the entire NHL has held opponents to three regulation-time goals or fewer in every game this season: your Jacques Martin-coached Montreal Canadiens.
They haven’t been blown out. There have been tense shifts; but with rare exceptions, the Canadiens haven’t gone through extended stretches where they’ve been suffered three-zone dominance.
Philippe Boucher, who has become an excellent addition to the Antichambre crew, made an interestion point last night. The retired NHLer surveyed the Canadiens recent history, dating back to the playoffs:
• Elimination of the Capitals
• Elimination of the Penguins
• Loss to the Flyers
• Hot start to the 2010-’11 season
Maybe, Boucher suggested, something good is taking shape here.
After the Sabres and Islanders of October, we figured to learn a lot about the Canadiens this week.
Well, they’re 2-0 against Vancouver and Boston.
OK, a bit of perspective: Boston was without Marc Savard, David Krejci, Johnny Boychuk and Marco Sturm. The Bruins were playing their second of a back-to-back after a long, fight-filled game in Pittsburgh.
But still …
Yes, you knew the Bruins would be gassed for the third period. But credit Jacques Martin with rolling four lines and playing high-tempo to make sure Boston would have nothing left for a late surge,
Next week brings three home games: the dastardly Flyers, Welcome Back, Sergei and the never-struggling-against-Montreal Leafs.
In our heart of hearts, most rational Canadiens fans saw the team in a season-long scaratch-and-claw to make the playoffs.
Which could still happen.
But we’re seeing a fundamentally sound hockey team with key elements in place: goaltending, team D, three solid defence pairings (I’m REALLY liking Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges), third- and fourth-line strength, excellent PK.
Assuming the power play comes around (and it popped two last night) and Cammalleri, Gionta and Gomez play to the form that has characterized their careers, the Canadiens are going to win more hockey games than they lose.
Credit the much-maligned coach.
And maybe we should think about crediting the general manager.
Pierre Gauthier signed Jeff Halpern. He gave Mathieu Darche the first one-way contract of his career.
Gauthier unloaded SK74. And while he may have got nothing in return, it was addition by subtraction in terms of team spirit and the play of AK46.
He signed Tomas Plekanec long-term and chose Carey Price over a playoff deity.
The latest move, sending Ryan O’Byrne west, frees up more cap space. The Canadiens have a shade over $1.5 million in discretionary money, giving Gauthier the flexibility to make a move if it looks like the wheels are wobbling and the Canadiens need a personnel shake-up.
But that’s down the road a piece.
It’s early, but the bandwagon is rolling.
• • •
Topic for discussion, sugggested by Michel Bergeron last night:
With the exception of Drew Doughty, is there a better young defenceman than P.K. Subban in the NHL?