Pope Michel I?
Hey, why not?
Through the first third of this short NHL season, Michel Therrien definitely has the infallibility thing going.
Seriously, name one wrong move Therrien has made in coaching your Montreal Canadiens to a position in the standings 14 spots higher than where they finished last season.
Exhibit A: Lars Eller. A healthy scratch for the second and third games of the season, Eller has been excellent – playing on the wing and at centre, in all situations, in all three zones, with a variety of linemates.
Exhibit B: Ryan White. Called out by Therrien after a series of brain-dead penalties, White spent seven games in the pressbox and did not get back into the lineup until Brendan Gallagher was concussed by Luke Schenn on Saturday. So did you notice who was taking – and winning – a defensive zone faceoff with Henrik Lundqvist on the bench and six Rangers skaters looking for the tying goal?
Exhibit C: Raphael Diaz. Opening night against Toronto, the Swiss sophomore played 14:49. Against the Rangers: 21:58 – more than Andrei Markov, more than P.K. Subban, more than Josh Gorges. And who was on the ice to protect that slim lead and score an insurance goal?
Answer me this, peeps: Where did you have Raphael Diaz on the Canadiens depth chart before the season began? And where is he now?
Why did Diaz top the ToI chart, including 2:47 when the Canadiens were shorthanded?
Because Michel Therrien coaches a meritocracy. Play well and you play a lot.
But the coach is not rigid.
Play not so well, and Therrien will give you time to get your stuff together. See DESHARNAIS, David.
Plus this: Therrien’s careful spoonfeeding of ice time to Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher. And his deployment of surprisingly versatile Brandon Prust (plus-3 against his old team) as their protector.
And this: P.K. Subban is less flamboyant, more effective.
If Jack Adams Trophy voting were held today, Therrien would definitely be part of the conversation. And that may be the case when the real voting happens, a ways down the road.
Are your Canadiens an all-conquering juggernaut?
Of course not – as evidenced by 40 minutes during which it was only necessary to Zamboni the end of MSG ice defended by a team being forechecked to death. But the beleaguered Canadiens – who didn’t get a shot on goal until the game was 16 minutes old and were held shotless for an eight-minute stretch of the second period – hung in and played rope-a-dope.
And despite playing their second game in as many nights, the Canadiens picked up their pace in the third period to bag two more unlikely points.
The team doesn’t quit. They battle, they play a sound defensive system in front of a great goaltender (and his backup), they’re disciplined (two minor penalties, despite chasing the puck for long stretches of a tough game in New York).
Unlike too many teams of too many recent seasons, this edition of the Canadiens has character. And that’s a tribute to the coach and his staff.
There are 32 games to go. And let’s be honest: a Canadiens collapse is not inconceivable.
But the only NHL teams with more wins than the Canadiens’ 11 are mighty Chicago and surprising Anaheim. The team is halfway through a killer portion of its schedule – six games in eight nights – and they’ve won all three and five in a row, dating back to the Florida trip.
Beginning next Monday, the Canadiens will play 11 of 15 games on the road. It will be difficult, probably impossible, to maintain a pace that has them 4-1-1 away from the Bell Centre.
Injuries will happen. Key players will have off-nights.
In an interview during an English Premier League soccer telecast this week, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said in any given game, he didn’t expect more than eight of his players to perform well. The key to success, Lord Ferg added, is to a system and players who can rally and pick up the slack for guys who are having off-games.
The Canadiens have that esprit de corps going. With the exception of Tomas Plekanec, everyone on the team has had bad nights. Some have had many. I’m looking at you, Erik Cole.
But with the exception of the Leaf Lashing, we haven’t seen a game in which the whole squad sucked. Someone always seems to take up the slack. And their readiness to rally is a tribute to that guy behind the bench.
But I don’t think we’ll see Therrien in papal vestments … not after what happened when he wore the mustard-coloured jacket for a playoff game.
• Hey, check out this honey of a goal by Pavel Datsyuk, who shakes off a forecheck and goes end-to-end: