With the Montreal Canadiens playing their 20th game of the season on Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators, and with the team sitting at the top of the NHL standings, what better time to look at why Marc Bergevin‘s team has had such success. And while we’re at it, why not take the opportunity to see who has let the team down and where fans and management can expect some improvement.
If someone had predicted that the Habs would be sitting where they are at the quarter mark of the 2016-2017 season, most fans and members of the media would have laughed at them. After all, it is in most part the same team that crashed and burned last season without Carey Price, a team said to be relying solely on their goaltenders to win games, a team without a headcoach worth of that title… And the Canadiens dared trading their best skater, their most electrifying player, which brought out the ire of many, remember?
But perhaps, just maybe, Bergevin knows what he’s doing. Perhaps the moves that he made were not blind hatred moves, but rather well thought out. Perhaps they were not jealousy or panic moves, but rather good, sound hockey decisions. Maybe, just maybe, Alexander Radulov is not Alexander Semin. Maybe, just maybe, Team Canada knew what they were doing when selecting Shea Weber for their top pairing, and perhaps he is not an “average hockey player”, as some analytics gurus claimed. Maybe Andrew Shaw helps make the Canadiens tougher to play against…
Oh a quarter of a season doesn’t make a season, let’s not carried away here. But we must admit that Michel Therrien‘s job is not on the line as some had predicted (or hoped for). And if you’re a genuine Habs’ fan, one without an agenda, one for whom the team’s success passes before the desire to be “proven right”, you are a happy fan right now!
He is playing centre. He is the team’s top centreman as a matter of fact. He has grown into that elusive big offensive centre that the team has been grooming slowly but surely and while many, myself included, would like to see his ice time go up a bit more, Galchenyuk is producing at about a point per game, something that the Habs have not seen from the centre position since… Pierre Turgeon!
A real firecracker in the dressing room, on the ice. His teammates love him and like many Russians, he loves playing in Montreal. He seems to have developed some good chemistry with Galchenyuk and he too averages almost a point per game. Don’t expect him to want to go anywhere else next year and Bergevin will gladly sign him to a longer term contract, as he’s proving to have matured and to be a great addition to the Canadiens.
Few knew him but truth be told, he has been my favourite defenseman for the past five or six years at least. While we’ve heard a lot about his leadership qualities, he’s physical, he has a booming shot, puts up points and he is the definition of a true shut-down defenseman. The guy is a true stud.
What is there more to say about the guy who racked up every individual awards in his grasp two years ago? He won the Gold medal for Canada at the recent World Cup of Hockey, and he’s on a roll. In fact, at the time of writing these lines, Price has yet to lose a game in regulation! What makes Price what he is however is so much more than goaltending. He is like a third defenseman on the ice and he helps his team greatly on breakouts. Who needs a puck-moving defenseman when you have a puck-moving goaltender?
Paul Byron – Torrey Mitchell – Philip Danault
Those three guys started on the fourth line together and for a while, they were carrying the offense for the Canadiens. Byron has seven (7) goals, while Mitchell and Danault each have five (5). Now Byron is seeing some ice on the top-six but that shouldn’t last too long. Regardless, it’s great to have that kind of depth as balanced scoring is very tough to defend against in the NHL.
Let’s face it, Emelin has been playing some pretty solid hockey since he was paired with Jeff Petry last season, before Petry got hurt. But his year, Emelin is, in my humble opinion, playing the best hockey since joining the Canadiens. Paired more often than not with Weber, he is the puck-mover on that pair and opponents have to decide which of the two they would rather get hit by, he or Weber, when entering the zone.
The ageless wonder is at it again, with his 14 points in 19 games so far. Markov’s best quality has always been his vision. The guy can thread a pass, see passing lanes like few others in this league and while his knee injuries have slowed him down speed-wise, he still has that same vision of the ice. He helped make Mike Komisarek a hockey player. He helped make Sheldon Souray a feared competitor, as he’s done for so many others. Coach Therrien is managing his ice time better, which should help down the stretch.
The guy is a true pro and we saw him put some extra time working on his shots, his one-timers, in hope to break out of whatever funk he is finding himself into. He’s still very solid defensively and more often than not, he is the one facing the top opposition. But at 6 million dollars per season, they also pay him to put up some points and he’s simply not helping his team in that aspect.
As we explored before the season started, Beaulieu has a golden opportunity when being paired up with Weber… but he blew it. The guy has the skills set, he is a good skater, has size, can be physical, has some offensive flair and shows flashes of what he can do, but the problem seems to be between his ears. Something tells me that he is on his last miles in the Canadiens’ organisation, as Bergevin is searching for a Top-4 defenseman and perhaps even another forward.
I don’t want to be too hard on Max because he still managed 13 points in 19 games, but his four goals are well below what we’re accustomed to from the team’s most natural goals’ scorer in recent years. He is not creating much as far as scoring opportunities and he’s often invisible out there. Having said that, Pacioretty, like many natural goals’ scorers, is streaky and he’s fully capable of scoring five goals in three or four games!
There is a lot of hockey remaining to be played folks and injuries are just around the corner, as every team suffers some throughout the season. Let’s just hope that they are not to key players and mostly, not long term. If the Canadiens can stay relatively healthy, they should be a force to recon with in the Eastern Conference, and Bergevin will be working at adding for a playoffs’ run.