Seriously, can they possibly be this good?
Have a new coaching staff and some lineup tweaks turned a last-place hockey team into a juggernaut that has won four games in a row?
Four goals scored in each of the Ws, a power-play that’s on fire, a goaltender who was initially shaky against the Winnipeg Jets but then got brilliant when he had to be.
On and on … and all this without P.K. Subban.
Look, let’s not get too euphoric just yet.
The Stanley Cup Express is about to play six straight games against Northeast Division opponents, beginning with a Wednesday night visit to Scotiabank Place to face a very good Senators team.
We’ll have a better measure of this team by mid-February, when Montrealers are enduring the worst month of the winter and our heroes are playing two games in sunny Florida.
But let’s enjoy this for what it is: an excellent start that few Canadiens fans expected heading into this wacky 48-game sprint of a season.
After five games last season – hey, remember October hockey? – the Canadiens were 1-4. They had been shut out once and, in two other games, had scored one goal. It was a harbinger of the nightmare season to come.
Remember all those blown leads last season?
They’re still around. The Canadiens were up 2-0 and 3-1 against New Jersey and 2-0 against Winnipeg. They blew those leads – and won both games.
Unlike last season’s chronically dispirited squad, the 2013 Canadiens play like they expect to win. They were not demoralized by temporary losses of momentum against the Devils and Jets.
And again, the Canadiens are 4-1 without last season’s best defenceman. And despite a poor start by the forward line that carried the attack, such as it was, in 2011-’12.
Ten different Canadiens have scored this season. That list includes neither Max Pacioretty nor David Desharnais. Erik Cole hadn’t scored until Tuesday night.
But Tomas Plekanec, centring a healthy Brian Gionta and a renascent Rene Bourque, has three goals. Brendan Gallagher, the fifth-round draft choice who was a Vancouver Giant a year ago, has two – including the highlight-reel wrister that Jet goaltender Ondrej Pavelec still hasn’t moved on.
Ah, those kids. Two more assists for Alex Galchenyuk against the Jets, and First Star honours for Gallagher.
On the TSN 690 postgame show, my friend Pat Hickey said he couldn’t recall the last time a game’s First Star was awarded to someone who played nine minutes.
I can’t remember either. We might have to wake up Red Fisher.
But like his teammates in this young season, Gallagher contributed quality minutes.
Tomas Kaberle played 12:13, but he was on for two Canadiens goals and none by the Jets. Kaberle is almost certainly the odd Dman out when P.K. rejoins the lineup, but the former Leaf was steady against Winnipeg and provides insurance if there are injuries to the defence corps.
Let’s hope not. The D has been superb in front of Carey Price this season.
Andrei Markov had two assists against Winnipeg and ran a PP that produced two more goals, including Plekanec’s winner.
Playing against a big, physical Jets team, Alexei Emelin had eight hits. His 28 total leads the league.
Josh Gorges blocked six shots and saved a goal when Price was caught out of his net at the end of the second period. Gorges has 18 BS on the season, one fewer than Brooks Orpik and Brent Seabrook.
Raphael Diaz isn’t leading the league in anything, but he’s been steady in partnership with Gorges and excellent, in support of Markov, on the Canadiens’ no-longer-popgun PP.
Francis Bouillon played 21:50. He isn’t a kid anymore, and it will be interesting to see how Frankie the Bull’s 21-minute average affects his game in Ottawa Wednesday and in the weekend back-to-backs at the Bell Centre.
By then, P.K. should be back, playing second-pair with Gorges behind Markov-Emelin, with Diaz dropping to third pairing with Frankie.
The Subban-less Canadiens held Winnnipeg to 21 shots. Their shots-against average of 26.2 is second only to St. Louis, which is allowing a ridiculous 19.5 shots per game.
Except for the brief period during which the Jets rallied, the Canadiens continued a trend we’d seen through the first three wins: the team moves the puck efficiently in their own zone; one, two or three short, accurate passes and they’re away.
The mobility and puck sense of the defencemen makes them difficult to forecheck. Touch wood, Markov hasn’t been hit yet.
Of course, they haven’t played Boston. Or Philadelphia.
But a team plays the schedule it’s dealt. The Canadiens, who sucked at the Bell Centre last season, have feasted on home cookin’ since the opening night stinkeroo against the Leafs.
They are undefeated in games that don’t begin with ceremonies.
But now the sked gets interesting …