I thought the wheels would fall off after Toronto humiliated your Montreal Canadiens 6-0 at the Bell Centre.
It didn’t happen.
The Canadiens went to Florida and beat the Lightning and Panthers to launch a five-game winning streak.
I thought the wheels would fall off after Pittsburgh lit up the franchise goaltender in a 7-6 win.
It didn’t happen.
The Canadiens began their longest road trip of the season with a bitterly fought come-from-behind win in Boston.
Then, after stumbling against the Islanders, the Canadiens reeled off wins against Carolina, Tampa Bay and – with ease on Sunday night – the woeful Panthers.
The team travels back to Montreal on Monday with wheels firmly attached and motor humming on all cylinders.
Two games past the halfway point of this short season, the Canadiens are in first place in the Eastern Conference.
They’ve won nine games on the road.
Their defencemen have scored 17 goals – most of any D corps in the NHL. P.K. Subban has 18 points in 20 games.
Carey Price leads the league with 13 wins. His backup is 4-1-1.
Thirteen Canadiens have at least 10 points – more than any other team in the league.
The road trip included stellar performances, on different nights, by three forward lines.
The Canadiens won in Florida with Peter Budaj in nets and without the services of Brandon Prust, Rene Bourque and Raphael Diaz.
Something is happening with this team.
And the question is: What now?
On L’Antichambre Sunday night, Guy Carbonneau suggested Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin should start to think big … like 25th Stanley Cup big.
“It’s not every year you have a chance to win it all,” Carbo said. The former Canadiens coach thinks the team’s current GM might consider accelerating his development plan. Perhaps Bergevin should tweak his lineup with a trade or two.
You don’t have to be a L’Antichambre panelist to recognize that our first-place Canadiens have a couple holes to fill:
• A rugged forward would relieve Brandon Prust of having to deal with the Milan Lucics and Colton Orrs of the league.
• The defence is undersized, and that could be fatal in the course of a seven-game playoff series.
Like his team, Bergevin is riding a hot streak. He hired Michel Therrien, signed Prust as a UFA and added Francis Bouillon and Colby Armstrong. Bergevin set the tone for the season by sending Scott Gomez home before the abbreviated training camp began. In consultation with Therrien, Bergevin kept two rookies, Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk, with the big club.
The GM’s most recent move was trading Erik Cole to Dallas for Ryder and a third-round draft choice this June. After a brief banishment to the pressbox, Ryder has filled in admirably for Bourque on the Tomas Plekanec-Brian Gionta line. And the draft pick increases the Canadiens’ inventory to six choices – a first, three seconds and two thirds – in the first three rounds of what is being touted as a vintage draft.
The stockpile also gives Bergevin some assets in piecing together a trade without compromising the core of a winning team.
There is no urgency to act. Having successfully completed a difficult road trip, the Canadiens will enjoy the annual Rookie Dinner (financed by Messrs Galchenyuk and Gallagher) in Florida then fly back to Montreal on Monday. There’s a home game against Ottawa on Wednesday and then a visit to New Jersey. The following week includes two home games against Buffalo bracketing another visit to Long Island.
March ends with back-to-back visits to Pittsburgh and Boston, then a home game against the Rangers.
Will the Canadiens still be in first place by then?
After two wrong calls on the wheels of the Stanley Cup Express, I’m leery of making any more predictions.
Carbonneau’s comments reflect hoary NHL wisdom that dictates when a team has a legitimate chance at the Cup, it’s incumbent on management to beef up for a deep run because, as Carbo said, you just don’t know when the chance will come again.
I love what I’ve seen from the Canadiens this season. Therrien has pushed all the right buttons. The team has talent, energy and, as exemplified by Brandon Prust, the heart and cojones that were too often conspicuous by their absence in recent seasons.
Can this team beat Pittsburgh or Boston in a seven-game playoff series? How about Toronto or Philly?
Chicago? L.A.? Anaheim or Vancouver?
I dunno, peeps. Let the Commentariat chew over the match-ups.
But isn’t it fun, 26 games into the season, to be having this discussion?