Jeff Halpern, one of the “gars de soutien” who so pleased Jacques Martin, says the Canadiens’ identity has been emerging through the last week.
“Moving the puck through the neutral zone,” Halpern added. “Getting it into places where we can go get it. Creating chances.”
Halpern also heaped praise on the team’s top two lines, pointing out that constant pressure by Tomas Plekanec-Mike-Cammalleri-Andrei Kostistyn and Scott Gomez-Brian Gionta-Your Uncle Ken keep opposing teams on their heels, opening the ice for the Canadiens’ creativity.
All the elements were on display in another dominant performance by the Canadiens, who held the Islanders to 23 shots and would have won by four were it not for some hot goaltending by Dwayne Roloson and a couple of tips on long Islander drives.
The coach urged caution.
“We haven’t achieved anything,” Martin said. “Every night is a battle. Every night we have to be at our best.
“We haven’t won anything.”
Technically, that’s true. Nine games do not a season make.
But the Canadiens are fast out of the gate (and I use the metaphor advisedly) and they’re winning raves from fans who didn’t really know what to expect this season.
What can we conclude, with 1/9 of the schedule in the books and the team sitting at 6-2-1?
Speed kills. Pierre Gauthier alluded to it at training camp, describing the team Bob Gainey and he have crafted as fast and highly-skilled.
And that was before the amazing P.K. Subban emerged as a Human Highlight Reel. P.K. has the legs that let him recover from his rookie mistakes, as he did several times against the Islanders.
This is the best-looking young player the Canadiens have had in a long, long time.
The only question is whether Jacques Martin can watch P.K. through 82 games without a cardiologist and a crash cart behind the bench.
There hasn’t been a crowd-pleaser like Subban since Alex Kovalev was in his glory. And with P.K., the best is yet to come.
We may still pine for a centre with size, but Tomas Plekanec and Scott Gomez are probably the fastest one-two tandem in the league. Coming out of transition, they are instantly in top gear and scaring the bejeezus out of opposing Dmen.
In the case of Plekanec, his speed and creativity are being complemented by a linemate who is on fire, AK46, and a scorer who is becoming a very slick passer.
Cammalleri had one shot on goal, but he was getting creative touches on every O-zone sequence the line played … and there were many of them.
Gomez fed his pal Gionta for four SoG. The captain also had four against Phoenix. Gionta is working hard, as usual, and you have to believe the goals will come.
G&G need a complementary left-winger. I think it should be Benoit Pouliot, but I suspect Martin likes the grit Moen (2/3 of a Gordie Howe hat trick) brings to the line, and the team is winning so there’s no urgency to the LW hunt.
There are more speed merchants on the third and fourth lines. Max Lapierre and Tom Pyatt can fly, which helps their lines perform yeoman gars-de-soutien duty, forechecking, keeping the puck in the O-zone and thereby diminishing pressure on Carey Price.
In making his ninth straight start, the goaltender matched his longest run last season. Between a Nov. 12 game at Phoenix and his Dec. 1 start against the Leafs at the Bell Centre, Price went 4-3-2, a streak that included two Shootout losses and a SO win.
Everyone knows it was imperative for Price to get a good start this season. Mission accomplished, largely on the strength of team defensive play that has kept the shots down: 21 by the Islanders, following 29 by Phoenix, 19 twice by Ottawa, 23 by Buffalo, 24 by Toronto and 20 by New Jersey.
The key is puck management.
As has been the case in all their wins, the Canadiens are making high-percentage passes, p[atiently and intelligently moving the biscuit out of their own end and through the neutral zone.
A blind person could tell the Canadiens were playing well against the Islanders: when the home team had the puck, it was click-click-click, a succession of tape-to-tape completed passes.
Unlike some of the teams we’ve watched in recent seasons, this edition plays consistently smart hockey.
Of course there will be errors.
It’s a game played on ice, and the schedule is devoid of weak sisters. When you play against Kyle Turris and John Tavares, there will be lapses.
But the goofs are few and far between.
The season to date has been mercifully free of WTF Moments, those brain-dead plays that kill momentum, take the crowd out of the game and ensure a steady stream of former Canadiens coaches warming the chairs on L’Antichambre.
The Canadiens are playing Jacques Martin hockey: puck support, defensive responsibility, nothing risky.
But contrary to Martin’s rep, this style is fun to watch … if you understand hockey and appreciate watching it played intelligently.
The scoresheet included goals by Princeton grad Halpern and McGill alumnus Mathieu Darche.
Score one for cerebral hockey … with more to come.
* League leaders: Carey Price with six wins, Mike Cammalleri at plus-9
• Why he should be a centre: Lars Eller, who continues to shine in measured playing time, won 6 of 9 faceoffs
• Alliterative names: Islanders must lead the league – Mike Mottau, Matt Martin, Matt Moulson