After a surprising 2014-15 regular season for the Montreal Canadiens where they finished 2nd overall with 110 points and their star net minder leading all goaltenders; Carey Price had a 1.96GAA, a .933 save percentage and cleaning up at the NHL awards. The Habs hopes for Stanley cup 25 ended early, when they got eliminated in the second round of the playoffs by the Eastern conference favourites; Tampa Bay Lightning.
Going into the off-season two glaring holes were apparent for this team: the struggling power play and the team’s failure to score goals. Marc Bergevin (Canadiens General Manager) did his best to address that this summer. Trading away fan favourite Brandon Prust to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Zack Kassian (who has yet to play a game, dealing with off ice issues) was his first move to bolster the Habs roster. Followed by the signing of free agent, former 40-goal scorer Alex Semin, coming off the worst season of his career. Bergevin also signed Tomas Fleischmann who helped round out their top 9. But the most important, yet subtle move by the Canadiens was having trade deadline pickup Jeff Petry signed to a 6 year $33 million contract. By having this defenseman for a full year, it slides the rest of the blue line into their proper roles and will help ease the workload of the 36-year-old veteran Andrei Markov, who has significant miles on his body.
Looking at most NHL preseason rankings, not many were interested in saying the Canadiens would be better this year. Most of them claimed they will not score enough goals and that there would be no way for Carey Price to duplicate last season’s performance.
Less than two weeks into the season, the Habs are off to a franchise record start going 6-0-0. Hard to imagine that the most storied franchise in professional sports has never started off a season with more than 4 wins in a row.
After an initial hiccup in their season opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs where they squeezed out a 3-1 win, they have been unstoppable. For the moment, the Canadiens seemed to have solved their scoring issues (currently 2nd in the league with 20 goals) and are once again leading the league in goals against with 7 in 6 games. After analysts were convinced the Carey would not replicate last seasons numbers. Little did they know, in this short sample size, he is even better, with a 1.20GAA and a .957 save percentage.
What else going right for the Canadiens?
Newly appointed captain Max Pacioretty understands the history of the team and takes it as an honour being named the 29th captain in Canadiens history. Coming back from an off-season injury, Pacioretty is continuing right where he left off last season with 4G and 2A in his first 6 games played.
Another big factor for the Habs strong start is their 2012 3rd overall draft pick Alex Galchenyuk. He has finally made the move to center and putting on quite a show. He has already notched 5 points in the early campaign.
One of the most important factors for the strong start is the team’s depth. They now have 4 lines that coach Michel Therrien is comfortable throwing out against any line. He no longer has to worry about line juggling. We saw this in their matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins, where Torrey Mitchell’s line was playing against Sidney Crosby and the top line for parts of the game. Averaging over 11 minutes a game, Therrien is confident throwing out anybody on the ice against their opponent.
On the surface it looks like the Habs have solved all their problems and are rolling on all cylinders. However, if we start dig deeper; 10 of the teams 20 goals came from their top line of Pacioretty-Plekanec-Gallagher. In order for the Habs to continue their success they will have to get more balanced scoring. The other lines are going to have to step up and start putting the puck in the net when the top line is not clicking. Their power play is once again a cause for concern, only scoring on 15.4% of their opportunities. They will need to get it going to be competitive in the playoffs.
Obviously the Montreal Canadiens are not going to finish the year 82-0-0, however they are a far better, all around team than many have given them credit for. Will they finish the season with more than 110 points? With their star goaltender continuously getting better, strong team leadership and a well-rounded club, the team is expected to make the playoffs without issue. Like they say, all you have to do is get in, then anything can happen. The real test will come during the post season. Having to win 4 best of 7 series. It will be exciting to see if this is the year that Montreal will finally raise number 25.
Spark Sports Analyst