For now – and maybe for a while – the pressure is off rookie general manager Marc Bergevin.
Public opinion in Montreal has turned against Subban – largely because the Canadiens are playing solid team hockey under a coach who has done a superb job, so far, of fine-tuning his team.
Example: In the season-opening loss to the Leafs, Tomas Kaberle played 20 minutes, including 6:25 on a power-play that was ineffectual. Against Washington, Kaberle’s ToI was 14:40. His time with a man-advantage was 3:55, and Kaberle was not on for power-play goals scored by Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Markov.
One game was enough for Therrien to realize that Markov and Kaberle were not working as a point combination on the power-play. Enter Raphael Diaz, who came to camp as the Canadiens’ sixth defenceman … and the Swiss sophomore would have been seventh on the depth chart if Subban had showed up.
Diaz played 14:49 against Toronto, 18:06 in the win over Florida and 20:28 against the Capitals. His steady performance at the point and ability to deliver accurate shots toward the net have freed up Markov to become the kind of power-play weapon he was before his knee surgeries. On L’Antichambre, Mario Tremblay compared Diaz to Brian Rafalski.
So credit Therrien 2.0 with running a fluid meritocracy in which ability and hard work are rewarded with ice time.
It took the coach two periods against Toronto to realize that Alex Galchenyuk was not the ideal left winger on the Plekanec-Gionta line. Enter Rene Bourque, whose physical presence and non-stop motor (the latter is something we didn’t see last season) have turned the trio into the team’s best line.
It’s early, but I sense the players are buying into the Therrien system. The Canadiens look happy, cohesive and confident – in contrast to a year ago, when injuries, blown leads and a ceaseless off-ice Gong Show sapped the team’s morale.
A new season – and a revival of the Markov of old – has brought improved special teams. And the 2013 campaign was two games and almost 58 minutes of a third before the Canadiens surrendered an even-strength goal.
Carey Price was superb again with 30 saves against the Caps. He is being well protected by six defencemen who hit, block shots, clear the zone efficiently and regularly join the rush.
Markov has been a revelation and Diaz a surprise, but the Canadiens are also getting superb work from Josh Gorges (10 blocked shots through three games), Francis Bouillon and Alexei Emelin, who is blossoming in his pairing with Markov.
Now if P.K. signs …
That would send Kaberle to the pressbox, where he can keep Lars Eller company.
When New Jersey visits the Bell Centre on Sunday, I wonder if Therrien will be tempted to bring Eller back, sticking him on the fourth line while Ryan White takes an evening off from residency in the penalty box. If you want to nit-pick at what we’ve seen in two wins, White’s penalties have not been wise and might prove costly against teams more dangerous than Florida and Washington.
Man, the Caps are a mess. Winless in three starts, a woeful D corps, Alex Ovechkin looking lost. We should have known something, apart from Republicans, was rotten in Washington when Dale Hunter decided he preferred London …. Ontario.
The Canadiens lost all four games to the Caps a year ago. They were shut out twice and scored a grand total of three goals.
This season’s Habs pumped four past Michal Neuvirth in 15 minutes. And this despite a top line that is off to a slow start.
David Desharnais, Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty carried the Canadiens last season. It’s early, but they are overdue for a breakout game.
If the lethargy persists, Therrien the tinkerer may be tempted to switch Pacioretty and Bourque, mainly as a way to get Max-Pac off the schneid.
The coach has another decision to make on his third line. Brandon Prust has been terrific, and I like the way he jumped on Matt Hendricks. Brendan Gallagher should be around for a while, but the Canadiens have two more games before they have to make a decision on Alex Galchenyuk.
I think the kid is a can’t miss prospect, and we’ve seen flashes of the talent that’s going to make him a star. But Galchenyuk played 12:33 in Washington. He may need more ToI to develop.
On the other hand, the kid has logged more minutes this season than that guy sitting at home in Toronto.