Let’s assume, for the sake of a nice Lord’s Day argument, that was the real Montreal Canadiens we watched last night.
So what do we have here?
• Great goaltending that gives the team a chance to win every night.
• An excellent first line, featuring the best two-way centre in the NHL.
• Four experienced, reliable defencemen – plus a surprisingly competent journeyman and an exciting rookie who’s thrilling fans and enraging opponents.
• One of the best penalty-kills in the league.
• Third and furth lines that are industrious, disciplined and capable of scoring once in a while.
• A second line on its way to becoming a third line if Lars Eller continues to improve.
• A power-play that doesn’t always totally suck.
• A defensive system that has not allowed more than three regulation-time goals since the season began – something none of the other 29 teams has accomplished.
Did I forget anything?
Oh, yeah: Team spirit.
Granted, the Sabres aren’t the Flyers. But you had to love the alacrity with which the Canadiens arrived, in numbers, whenever trouble started last night.
Patrick Kaleta? Invisible …. which had not been the case in Toronto on Friday.
December is not going to be an easy month.
Two winnable games – Edmonton and, yes, New Jersey – mid-week, then the sked gets hairy: San Jose at home followed by nine of 12 on the road; stops in Detroit, Colorado, Dallas, Carolina, Washington and the year-end Florida swing. Four sets of back-to-backers, including an ice-pack special: Philadelphia and Boston at the Bell Centre on Dec. 15-16.
If the Canadiens played like they did in Atlanta on Friday, December is going to kill them.
But if the real team is the one that beat Buffalo last night, 2010 will go into the books as a great year that included a miracle playoff run and a surprising season start.
Get Scott Gomez going, which will help Mike Cammalleri, and 2011 will be a very good year.
• • •
And now, because I’m lazy and want to watch football, here are a couple interesting observations from my favourite print analyst, Pierre Ladouceur of La Presse, and a member of the Commentariat, usversusthem:
Ladouceur outlined the genesis of the AK46 power-play goal that opened the scoring. On the previous shift, the excellent-all-night line of Eller, Mathieu Darche and Benoit Pouliot had controlled the puck in the Buffalo end and a desperate Steve Montador cross-checked Darche on the lip of Ryan Miller’s crease. Twenty-two seconds later, Andrej Sekera flipped the puck over the glass and the Canadiens had a 5-on-3.
The ensuing goal can be traced back to Darche’s willingness to pay the Price in the dirty area.
“Positioning in front of the net is a question of will,” Darche told Ladouceur. “It’s my role, and I know there’s a price to pay.”
The bill, however, landed on the Buffalo tab.
(When I talked to Darche, he said some interesting things about Eller’s willingness to listen and learn. The kid is going to be a good one.)
Usversus them worked up some stats on Carey Price in December: 8-4-0, GAA of 1.59, save precentage of 95.1, three shutouts (and 73 bloody seconds short of a fourth!)
The Commenter concludes:
Worth noting: 2 of those losses came in games the Habs were shut out in.
Meaning: In the 10 games the Habs actually scored a goal, Price went
8-2. (Of his 7 regulation losses so far this season, the Habs have
scored 1 or 0 goals in 4 of them.) Also: Keep in mind, he let in 8 of
those 19 goals in the first three games of the month. Over the last 9
games, he’s been insane! 7-2-0, 1.23, .964, 3 SO… It’s unlikely he’ll
be about to retain his Movember mojo going forward, but if he puts up
anywhere close to these numbers for another couple of months the Habs
shouldn’t have too much trouble clinching the division even without
How good are your Montreal Canadiens?
No one, least of all the team PR department, talks about Markov.
His creativity is still sorely missed on the PP. But Alexandre Picard has been very solid. He’s not a physical defenceman, but Picard is rarely out of position (which is important, playing with the irrepressible P.K.), and he makes good decisions with the puck.
You don’t notice Picard … and that’s a good thing.
• • •
The annual Canadiens Blood Donor Clinic goes at Windsor Station tomorrow.
The team also will be out in force at Mary Queen of the World, Montreal’s beautiful cathedral, for Pat Burns’ funeral.