The Canadiens have played 10 games. They have accumulated 17 out of a possible 20 points. They have won 8, having dropped only one in regulation. If one assessment has rung true so far, it’s that this team, with all its depth, will find many ways to beat you. What has happened thus far is that instead of the whole team using its vast arsenal to defeat the opponent, only some troops have been firing, while others have yet to find their bearings.
It says a lot about the individual talent on this team, that certain players are blessed with such skill that they can win a game for you on their own. Carey Price has saved Montreal on a couple of occasions, standing tall against Carolina, Minnesota, and Buffalo, and Halak shutting it down against Florida, all games in which Montreal was outplayed. No amount of talent could help salvage a point against the Anaheim Ducks, with the Habs throwing a mixed bag of average goaltending and lackadaisical defense at a Duck team that won it all 18 months ago. The team went to sleep for two periods in the home opener against the Bruins who could not overcome the damage inflicted by Habs’ roaring start in the first period. The coming-out party that was the last 12 minutes of the Islanders game on Saturday proved the perfect stage for the Kovalev-Plekanec-Kostitsyn line to recapture some of the fluid cohesion that made them such a threat last season. They won the game all by themselves.
So this would make it five games in a row in which the team has not played as one. Seven out of ten in which they have been outplayed.
It’s not alarming, not by any stretch of the imagination. This is exactly when you want your team to be looking for its rhythm, not in April. It’s actually quite remarkable that they are sporting a .850 winning percentage despite the continuous soul searching sprint out of the starting gates. The record serves as compelling evidence that the individuals picked to do battle for this team are of the right blend, and that even when playing in compartments, with only a few aligned on the war front, while the rest stay behind and contend with their own early impairments, they can prevail. Remember, at the risk of falling into cliché, the 17 points in October are tallied with the same significance as the ones they’ll accumulate in March.
One must disagree with the assessment that anchors the Canadiens’ accomplishments in the good fortunes of being lucky. If there is any truth to that, it’s that they, as a team, are lucky to be playing together – but the team as a whole is not lucky to have won so often despite certain shortcomings. The individual talent on this team is proving to be so potent that it will overcome some weaknesses that would otherwise be fatal. If the whole team is in an offensive slumber, Price can shut it down. If the Kovalev line is still greasing its wheels, the Koivu line can play to a level that can topple the opponent, with numerous multiple point performances for Tanguay and the captain so far. It’s not what you want from an A-caliber team, but it’s what you get when the group is finding a way to gel.
It’s hard not to forget that save for the Plekanec line, every trio on this team has been changed significantly. Tanguay for Ryder is a major change in hockey styles, far more east-west than Koivu has seen in recent years.
Robert Lang’s presence instantly converts the third line’s purpose from tight-check grapplers to high intensity run and gunners.
Laraque immediately changes the once softer face of this team into an intimidating squad that will serve consequences and repercussions in response to any liberties the opponent may take.
This is not the Montreal Canadiens of 2007-2008. It’s a changed group with a changed purpose, and it’s going to take a little while until the players all understand exactly how they fit in a system the coaching staff is trying to carve out for them. On some nights, some get it, and others don’t. That’s fine, because an 82-game season is an exercise in storytelling, and you really don’t want to have the core of the story unravel too soon. Obviously, you don’t want the team to take any days off, but it’s hard to expect perfect harmony between the four lines as of day 1. That being said, it’s no excuse for being outplayed on most nights.
It remains to be seen whether their record will revert to a law of averages, or if these first ten games will have served as an early indication of how truly amazing this team is.