Two months of the NHL season down, four to go.
So in the wake of that delightfully entertaining conquest of the wretched Leafs, what kind of hockey team do we have here?
The numbers suggest – dare we even dream it? – a team that began November in a fire-the-coach funk is entering December as a Christmas a contender.
As December begins, your Montreal Canadiens are third in the Atlantic Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference.
Through 27 games, the goaltending tandem of Carey Price and Peter Budaj has allowed an average of 2.00 goals per – second in the league only to Boston’s 1.96.
If, as my friend Patrick V. Hickey was saying on the TSN 690 postgame show, defence wins championships, the Canadiens are lookin’ awfully good.
Price is playing like a Vezina Trophy candidate. Budaj might be the best backup in the league.
Those two guys enjoying a bromance moment in the photo? P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov are among the league’s elite defence pairings.
The return of Alexei Emelin (the Canadiens are 5-1-1 in games he’s played) paired with steady-but-not-spectacular Josh Gorges gives the Canadiens a respectable 3-4.
And how about the depth on D? Raphael Diaz, who was playing in excess of 20 minutes when the season began, has dropped to the third pairing but is contributing smart, quality ice time. Douglas Murray, making his first start since taking on John Scott in Buffalo, tied P.K. for the team lead in hits against Toronto with three and led both teams with five blocked shots.
Yeah, the big Swede is slower than global warming. But Murray, a Cornell grad, plays within his limitations. He’s a crease-clearing monster and is part of a penalty-kill that has zoomed up to fifth in the league, just a tick behind Boston’s.
The power-play, quarterbacked by Markov and Subban as though they were Brady and Manning, is third in the league. The Canadiens’ combination of PP success (24.0) and PK efficiency (85.3) percentages is 109.3 – topped only by Pittsburgh (25.3 and 85.2).
Even-strength scoring is an issue. The Canadiens are 21st in the league, tied with Minnesota.
That stat should improve, however, with the Brendan Gallagher-sparked resurgence of David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty.
It may also be reasonable to expect increased scoring from Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta. They’ve been bolstered by the addition of Daniel Brière, who contributed a solid 12:24 against Toronto.
The line that isn’t scoring continued its futility against the Leafs. But Lars Eller assisted on Pacioretty’s shorty and went 10-7 on faceoffs. Rene Bourque returned to the lineup on Eller’s right wing and had five shots on goal, seconbd only to Pacioretty’s ridiculous 10 SoG.
Which brings us to Alex Galchenyuk. After taking an utterly pointless boarding penalty in the second period, Galchenyuk spent the final 20 minutes of the game sitting beside George Parros. Neither of them left the bench until the final siren brought a victory skate.
Was Therrien being a tad harsh on a 19-year-old? Penalties happen.
But Galchenyuk has been in a funk since his buddy Gallagher left the line. And as the Canadiens got their injured players back and climbed up the standings after November began with four straight losses, they became a team on which everyone is expected to pull their weight.
There are standards. And Galchenyuk fell short of them against Toronto.
I’m predicting a bounce-back game for him against New Jersey Monday night.
Galchenyuk is the total package: size, speed, vision, great hands and high hockey IQ. He’s also had the character-building experience of coming back from a serious knee injury in junior hockey.
The kid is mentally tough. He’ll survive a third-period benching.
IHis fellow spectator, Parros, played five shifts, 3:25 of ToI. Parros wasn’t on for any goals-against and he fought Colton Orr.
I expect to see either Ryan White or Michaël Bournival back in the lineup against the Devils.
The Canadiens find themselves with a surplus of healthy forwards, and the buzz around town has Marc Bergevin thinking about a trade. While their recent performances indicate the Canadiens are for real and the goals are starting to come, the team could still use a Top 6 forward who can score.
A couple names to contemplate between snaps of the NFL games on Sunday:
Evander Kane is wearing out his welcome in Winnipeg.
Nail Yakupov played with Galchenyuk in Sarnia.
I wouldn’t include Max Pacioretty in a package for either one of them. But maybe Bergevin can conjure up a Christmas present for us.
• Driving home and listening to postgame talk on the radio, someone – I don’t remeber if it was the English or French station – said P.K. Subban is the most talented Canadien since Guy Lafleur.