After the awful season Canadiens’ fans had to suffer through last season, and all the major changes the team has gone through in the off-season, there were many question marks on this year’s Habs and several people were very vocal in showing their displeasure with the direction the team was taking. They say that crow is best served cold and thankfully, hockey is a game played on ice. Take a seat folks, there’s plenty of servings for everyone!
So what is it that fans and media have learned in the first quarter of the season? What were the question marks in the off-season and how have those questions been answers (if they have been at all) all things considered? Well, let’s have a look at the most “popular” topics of this off-season…
Alexander Radulov is not Alexander Semin
Yes, many were saying that Radulov would be Semin 2.0 and some were even hoping he would be. The fact is that Radulov was a gamble, but the odds were on his side. Bergevin did his homework and spoke to his former coach and GM. He even spoke to newly acquired All-Star defenseman Shea Weber about him, he who played with him in Nashville. At the time of writing those lines, Radulov has 18 points in 22 games, with 11 primary assists, second most in the entire NHL. He’s second in team points behind his linemate Alex Galchenyuk. Not Semin.
Carey Price was missed
If anyone expects that losing the league MVP, winner of five NHL awards, for most of the season won’t have a serious negative effect on a team, think again. Price was greatly missed by the Canadiens. You see, he’s so much more than just an excellent goaltender. He is the ultimate leader on this team and he’s also a third defenseman on the ice. The Habs’ breakouts are totally different when he’s playing, saving the defensemen from punishing hits facing the boards. He’s a key part of the system. He was missed.
Shea Weber is good at hockey
The hot topic of the season. We’ve learned that analytics are scratching their head trying to figure out mathematically how the Habs (and most particularly Weber) can have such a positive impact. Fans are realising that Weber is just… good at hockey! He’s a gamer, on and off the ice. We know about his leadership, we know about his booming slap shot. His detractors didn’t know about his shut-down ability, his physicality and the respect he imposes on the ice. His 18 points (including 8 goals) are good for second in the NHL in scoring for defensemen, two points behind Brent Burns, and his plus – 18 rating is also second (1st amongst defensemen) in the entire NHL. Thank you Dr. Kowalski, the kids really appreciate watching him and the Habs play some great hockey. Weber is good.
Michel Therrien’s job is not in jeopardy
We have heard and read all summer about “Ifs” and “Buts” about Therrien’s tenure as the Canadiens’ head coach. IF the Habs are up to a slow start… But he must improve his coaching… If Its and Buts were candy and nuts, it would be Christmas every day! He wasn’t my personal choice for head coach when the announcement was made but the fact is that Therrien’s record speaks for itself. Oh he’s far from perfect but players like him. Little things he does for them, days off, putting them in the starting line-up against teams they played for, rolling four lines, etc. Those are things players appreciate. His job is safe this year.
Kirk Muller knows powerplay
Muller is a likeable guy. He’s a leader who not only played in Montreal and captained this team, but he understands the market and the pressure that comes with it. The Canadiens’ powerplay finished the season 25th overall last year. So far this season, they sit in 5th place in the NHL. As an associate coach, he has some say in the day-to-day decisions on the team and that is great for the organisation. Don’t kid yourself: while other coaches will give their input, it’s Muller and not Therrien who decides who plays on the special teams! The fact is that Muller knows powerplay.
Habs didn’t screw up Alex Galchenyuk’s development
So much was said about the way the Canadiens were bringing up Galchenyuk. As the youngster sits 5th in NHL scoring today, finally playing centre on the top line, it seems like “the plan” is paying off. Playing him all those years on the wing took some responsibility off his shoulders and, according to Galchenyuk himself, has taught him what it takes to score goals in this league. The beauty of it all is that he’s not done progressing. Therrien praised his hard work ethics just recently and they will keep on adding to his responsibilities as he improves. Not only didn’t the Habs screw up his development, they helped him develop in what he is today.
Coaches can sit David Desharnais
This is perhaps the most surprising to be honest. Here I thought that as long as Therrien was the head coach of the Canadiens, Desharnais would be a Top-6 centre. Well it looks like I was wrong. Not only is his ice time (12:52 per game) drastically cut from what it was last season (16:00), but he spent some time on the wing and was even a healthy scratch one game! Who would have thought? Even his powerplay time (1:21 per game) has been cut from last season (2:18). This being the last year of his contract, things aren’t looking so good for little Davey’s future with the team…
There you have it folks! Oh there are other topics we could have covered I’m sure, but those are, in my humble opinion, some of the key question marks entering the season. With the Canadiens sitting in first place in the NHL with a 16-4-2 record, good for 34 points, three points ahead of the New York Rangers in second place, one would be hard-pressed to convince me to be negative about this team. Yes, there is room for improvement and we are seeing a very active Marc Bergevin, trying to improve in areas where the team needs help. Anyone else curious about the GM spending a few days in San Jose considering the Canadiens aren’t playing there until… Friday?