The Montreal Canadiens' 2011-12 season has not gone according to plan so far. At the All-Star break, they are eleven games under .500 if you include the overtime and shootout losses.
It’s no secret that Scott Gomez has been a disaster and players like Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Markov, P.K. Subban, the recently departed Michael Cammalleri and team captain Brian Gionta have all had disappointing seasons. However, there have been some bright spots for the Habs despite all of this.
Some of them involve players that have surprised everyone with their strong play this season, while others deal with the future of a team that has something to look forward to if they decide to start rebuilding at the conclusion of the season.
Let’s explore these pleasantries in more detail.
Even though 2011-12 hasn’t been as good as last season for Carey Price, he’s still an All-Star and he is still the Habs' MVP.
This is important for both Price and the Canadiens organization because it’s the first time he’s posted back-to-back solid seasons.
Up until now, Price had only showed signs of his potential greatness. He had a wonderful rookie season, but he followed that up with a mediocre sophomore season and a third season in which he lost his starting job to the red hot Jaroslav Halak.
This made Montreal hockey fans wary of Price when the team traded Halak after his stellar play in the 2010 playoffs, but Price allowed them to breathe a huge sigh of relief after he showed his potential once again in 2010-11.
Now he is showing that he’s a legitimate top 10 NHL goalie with his consistency in 2011-12 and has allowed the fans in Montreal to look forward to many more years of not having to worry about their goaltending situation.
There were questions as to whether or not the now 33-year-old Cole still had enough game to warrant a four-year, $18 million contract when Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier signed him last summer. After all, the only other time Cole played for an NHL team other than the Carolina Hurricanes, he had a subpar 27 points in 63 games for the Edmonton Oilers in the 2008-09 season.
Fortunately, Cole has proven his value in Montreal as he leads the team with 39 points at the All-Star break. What’s even more encouraging for Habs fans is that Cole seems to be getting better as the season goes on.
After recording just one point in his first seven games and five points in his first 15 games, some Canadiens fans decided to change Cole’s first name from Erik to “Lump Of” as a sign of displeasure for the veteran left-winger. Those nicknames have been forgotten, though, as Cole has averaged a point per game since then and has provided some much needed veteran leadership on his new team in dire times.
Not only is Josh Gorges having another solid season in Montreal, but the Canadiens have ensured that the steady 27-year-old defenseman isn’t going anywhere for a long time.
The Habs rang in the New Year by signing Gorges to a six-year, $23.4 million deal that will pay him $3.9 million per season.
This is an important move for the organization because Gorges has been arguably the most consistent d-man in Montreal since he joined the team in 2007.
In five full seasons with the Canadiens, Gorges has a plus-21 rating and chips in admirably on offense, even though it’s not part of his job description.
Overall, it’s a great signing for the future of the Montreal Canadiens.
Moen is easily having his best season since joining the Canadiens in 2009. If he keeps up his scoring pace, he’ll surpass his 21-point campaign in 2006-07 with the Anaheim Ducks without much difficulty.
At the very least, the Habs can now get something decent at the trade deadline for the 29-year-old grinder, as he is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
Moen would be a valuable commodity for any Stanley Cup contender because he has plenty of playoff experience and he can provide some much needed depth and physicality to a team looking to take the next step and win it all.
If you thought David Desharnais would be tied for second in team-scoring at the All-Star break, you’re probably lying to yourself.
The undrafted former ECHL player has 35 points already this season and is poised to become a top-six forward after a promising start to his NHL career last season. He also has a team best plus-11 rating.
Desharnais is easily the most pleasant surprise of any Canadien this season and should be a solid Hab for a long time as he is only 25 years old.
There were question marks surrounding both of the Habs' prized prospects heading into the season.
Many wondered how Max Pacioretty would bounce back after the concussion he suffered as a result of the brutal hit by Zdeno Chara last March. As it turns out, we didn’t need to worry at all as he’s on pace to score 30 goals this season and is tied with David Desharnais for second in team scoring.
As for Lars Eller, many were wondering why the team traded Jaroslav Halak for him.
As the 13th overall pick in the 2007 NHL Draft, Eller hadn't shown any signs of living up to the hype and was looking more like a potential bust than a star in the making.
Fortunately, Eller has been much better this season. His 20 points in 46 games might not make any Habs fans jump for joy, but he appears to be heading in the right direction and he did make the Bell Centre stand up and cheer once this season when he capped off a four-goal night with a penalty shot spin-o-rama goal.
The play of both Eller and Pacioretty this season is just another reason to look forward to the future for the Canadiens if things aren’t going so well in the present.
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