It may be time to confront a question that the more jaded among us, the scars of last season still fresh, have avoided through 15 games:
Are your Montreal Canadiens a good hockey team?
An unequivocal answer might have to wait – at least 24 hours, which will take in the Canadiens’ visit to Madison Square Garden, and maybe longer.
Beginning next Monday, the Canadiens will play eight of 10 games on the road.
A good team will survive a schedule like that.
So by all means, put a bottle or two of champagne on ice.
But let’s not pop the corks just yet.
OK, enough skepticism from Donald Downer.
Your Canadiens sit atop the Northeast Division and they’re second in the Eastern Conference.
Facing the Flyers and the high-flying Hurricanes with Peter Budaj subbing for a flu-bit Carey Price, the Canadiens gave up 19 shots in each of the games. Budaj surrendered one goal to Philadelphia and hung a goose egg on Carolina.
It was the first time the Hurricanes have been shut out this season.
Was Budaj spectacular in earning First Star honours Monday night?
No. But he didn’t have to be.
The Canadiens played superb team defence, as they have in almost every game this season. Carolina had maybe five good scoring chances. I don’t think they had an odd-man rush all game long.
Not the least important aspect of the superb coaching job Michel Therrien has done this season – c’mon, now, MT-haters. Give the man his props! – is distribution of ice time among his six defenceman. No one plays crazy minutes – Justin Falk’s ToI was a ridiculous 30:33 for Carolina – and everyone, including greybeards Andrei Markov and Francis Bouillon, stays fresh.
Even through a game that was a scoreless nailbiter through 42 minutes, Therrien was able to roll four lines. They didn’t show up on the scoresheet, but the paroled Ryan White, Travis Moen and Colby Armstrong contributed gritty board work and quality minutes in a game that was a grind-it-out affair until Alex Galchenyuk set Brandon Prust up for the Canadiens’ first goal.
Galchenyuk and Prust played with Lars Eller after Therrien made an in-game adjustment. The coach reunited last season’s top line, moving Cole from Galchenyuk’s right wing to replace Eller with David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty. We’ll likely see those lines again in the Big Apple on Tuesday night.
The Tomas Pekanec line stayed intact. Rene Bourque had no hits and gave the puck away a couple times, but Plekanec was customarily excellent and scored his eighth goal on a thunderous shot that shook up Cam Ward sufficiently for the Carolina goaltender to fluff Max Pacioretty’s attempt to channel J.C. Tremblay.
It took 15 games and a weird goal for Max-Pac to get off the schneid this season. The Canadiens will need his production through the imminent period when their schedule becomes hellacious.
My fat ass is still parked on the fence, so I’ll leave it to the Commentariat to weigh in one whether this is a good team or an early-season/soft schedule mirage.
But if you figure 55 points punches a ticket to the post-season dance, the Canadiens need 34 from their remaining 33 games to make the playoffs.
And based on what fans have seen so far – which is really all we have to go on – hockey-mad Montreal could enjoy a merry month of May.
• The Canadiens have two four-game winning streaks in their first 15. In 82 games last season, the team had one four-W streak (games 9 through 12, before everything turned to crap) … Eric Staal had five shots on goal, but linemate Alexander Semin was held to one and Jiri Tlusty had none … Josh Gorges had four hits to lead the Canadiens … The Canadiens won 27 of 50 faceoffs. Lars Eller was 5-1, DD 7-5 and Tomas Plekanec 11-8. Alex Galchenyuk didn’t take a draw all night, but he led the team with four SoG … The Canadiens haven’t given up a power-play goal since that Sami Salo buzzer-beater in Tampa. They’ve killed the last nine straight man disadvantages … Conversely, the Canadiens power-play hasn’t scored since Brian Gionta beat Anders Lindback during a 5-on-3 at the end of the first period in Tampa … The Canadiens and New Jersey are tied for fourth in the NHL in shots against per game (26.7).
• Save of the Night: Marc Denis, RDS’s man between the benches, owes Carey Price a dinner: