Those worried about the roster limit in Montreal and who would inevitably be sent down between Ryan O’Byrne, Guillaume Latendresse, Sergei Kostitsyn, and Matt D’Agostini, can now breathe a sigh of relief with the injury to Mathieu Dandenault. And by that I mean, now you can stress about the fact that a valuable player who’s value was in serious question this summer, will be replaced by Ryan O’Byrne who has struggled– a player who wouldn’t have drawn back into the lineup so soon, otherwise.
Despite all the doubt, Mathieu Dandenault has been valuable to these Canadiens, and this blog will highlight five others who have been a crucial part of their successes so far this season.
5- Robert Lang
Toronto’s second round pick in this upcoming draft in exchange for a 4,000,000$ investment for this season, brought the perennial 50+point scorer to Montreal– a move that was categorized as plan B, after Mats Sundin was unwilling to decide his hockey fate before the season, as he promised everyone he would do.
Though he lacks a certain speed dimension to his game, his on-ice awareness, and intelligence make up for it. He’s a gifted forechecker, and a balanced player who can win faceoffs, play multiple positions on the powerplay, and effectively kill penalties.
Canadiens fans didn’t have to wait long to see what kind of impact he would have on this team; he scored on his first shift/shot as a Hab. Since then he’s accumulated a total of 10 goals, 10 assists, and a rating of +9.
Recapturing chemistry with Alex Kovalev hasn’t been a problem. Five of Lang’s ten goals have come on passes from Kovalev. Since being officially put on the same line 4 games ago, Lang has 3 goals and 3 assists, and while Kovalev remains mired in a 17 game goal-scoring drought, he has 5 assists.
4- Andrei Markov
It’s no secret that Montrealers have been waiting for Andrei Markov to embrace his role as the team’s #1 defenseman. After an extremely disappointing postseason, the onus on Markov only became larger, as the Canadiens opted not to bring back Mark Streit this summer.
Though he hasn’t been the answer to Montreal’s powerplay issues, he has been one of their best players with the man-advantage. Behind Alex Kovalev, and Alex Tanguay, who each have 8 points on the powerplay, Markov has 2 goals and 5 assists.
Markov’s presence has truly been felt in Komisarek’s absence, as he has quickly jumped out to the overall scoring lead on the team. In 27 games, Markov has 5 goals, 18 assists, and a +9 against the best players on every opposing team.
Out of 6 players who looked destined to start this year’s allstar game, Markov truly deserves to be there.
3- Josh Gorges
"Josh is an excellent player. He’s a good skating d-man, and he’s quick. We got to play against him a bit in San Jose…his speed allows him to not give up position too often," according to Flames Captain, Jarome Iginla last night.
If it’s offense you were looking for from Gorges, you have every reason to be disappointed, but on the defensive end of the ice there’s a reason he’s was chosen to take Mike Komisarek’s spot when the Canadiens lost their hulking defenseman to a shoulder injury.
Josh Gorges’ work ethic is pretty much where the bar should be set for aspiring NHLers. The level of his play has jumped a couple of levels from last year. He is as poised as any veteran defenseman in the league, and his uncanny ability to take the hit and make the play with such consistency has made him one of the most valuable assets on this Montreal team.
Playing anywhere between 18 and 23 minutes/game, Gorges has a team-best +12 rating, making him the 12th most efficient player in the league in that category.
His true value: 1,100,000$ for this season, and the next two as well.
2- Saku Koivu
Anyone wondering whether Koivu would be a priority headed into this summer’s unrestricted free agency frenzy, may already have their answer, just 27 games into this historical season for the Canadiens.
Koivu has 22 points, a +12, and most surprising: a measly 12 penalty minutes on the season.
If you’re a thriving player, or a slumping player, Koivu will keep you producing, or he’ll make you produce. Ask Matt D’Agostini, or Andrei Kostitsyn, or Alex Tanguay, or Guillaume Latendresse, or Christopher Higgins. It’s not a coincidence that all of these players have played their best next to Montreal’s captain.
Koivu makes his teammates infinitely better, and has proven two things, time and time again:
1. Whenever people doubt him, or the expectations on him are lowered, he proves them wrong.
2. The more important the game is, the better Saku Koivu plays.
After a heartbreaking loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, which kept the Montreal Canadiens from the postseason in 2006-2007 Bob Gainey went on record to say the following:
"He thinks like a champ, he trains like a champ, he eats like a champ, and one day he’ll be a champ…It’s up to us to support him. I think we are a team that can supply Saku Koivu with the time frame, the opportunity to be on a championship team. We are getting stronger, smarter, and better, and he’s a part of that. It’s up to me and my department to prove to him that he’ll have a the opportunity to win here."
1- Carey Price
Last night, in conversation with Canadiens vice-president Donald Beauchamp, Carey Price was referred to as the ultimate "equalizer".
His team has failed to produce a powerplay goal in 8 of their 14 home games this season, yet Carey Price boasts a home-record of 7-1-3 (and the 1 regulation loss was credited to Carey when he came in to relieve Jaroslav Halak, who had all but lost the game to Anaheim on his own).
On the road Price is 6-3-1. He’s got a .920SA%, and a 2.37GAA, with 1 shutout on the year. Though he ranks 13th in SA%, he’s 4th on a list of 15 goalies who have played more than 19 games this year, ranking ahead of Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Miller, J.S. Giguere, and Miikka Kiprusoff. Out of the same list of goalies who have played more than 19 games this season, Price is 5th on the list for GAA.
As is usually the case, Montreal’s top netminder will have to be their best player if the Canadiens hope to go far in the postseason. In this, his second NHL season, Carey is proving he’s up to the challenge.
There were major doubts as to whether Carey could handle the pressure of playing in Montreal. A bad series against the Philadelphia Flyers certainly magnified the doubt in Price, but in 27 games this season, he has proven that last season’s playoff collapse was initiated by mental and physical exhaustion.
Price’s short list of accomplishments (including World Junior Gold MVP, WHL MVP, Calder Cup MVP, and a winning record in his first NHL season after being given the starting role halfway through a campaign that saw him leave Montreal for the AHL for over a month) should lend credence to the theory that he thrives under pressure.
To date, he’s been Montreal’s most valuable player.