The Montreal Canadiens celebrate against the Washington Capitals on Thursday.
Don’t start planning the Stanley Cup parade quite yet, but the Montreal Canadiens are, no joke, currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Not bad for a team that finished last just one season ago.
Admittedly, it's not that great when one considers heading into Monday night the New York Islanders were eighth. But Habs fans will take what they can get, which, in the early going of this lockout-shortened season, has actually been a fair bit.
The Habs have been exceeding expectations, put simply. And complaining right now would be bad form. Well, actually, complaining, at least in regard to hockey, would be considered business as usual in Montreal during the winter months…and summer months in all honesty. But let’s not get overly greedy.
As such, here are five positives (and no negatives) of the Montreal Canadiens’ great 3-1 start to the 2013 National Hockey League season.
Andrei Markov of the Montreal Canadiens.
Just putting it out there, but, after he has posted four goals and one assist after three games, every team should be giving their respective power-play quarterbacks whatever Andrei Markov’s been taking. Maybe just don’t let them know right off the bat it’s knee surgery, though.
Indeed, after playing in just 20 games over the past two seasons and 65 over the past three, Markov is doing what he did best in his prime: Leading a power-play unit that averaged 21.2 percent in the four years just after the last lockout and before he sustained his countless lower-body injuries.
While a few of sane frame of mind might consequently argue that perhaps the best course of action would be to abstain from surgeries of any kind with that kind of a success rate, no dice. This year, Montreal is clicking on a crazy 27.3 percent of its power-play opportunities.
Granted, the St. Louis Blues were leading the league as recently as last weekend with almost double that at 53.8 percent. But, if not multiple medical procedures, then what would be your explanation for current-Blue Wade Redden missing the last two years of hockey? And make it believable please.
In any case, Montreal is off to a good start as far as the power play is concerned, which is a positive if for nothing else than the fact that the Habs were at 14.3 percent last season (third-worst in the league).
P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens.
Yes, P.K. Subban has signed a two-year, $5.75-million deal, but it's a shame it got done only now and not earlier. Still a positive, mind, you.
At 3-1 and with a power-play unit operating at peak efficiency, the Habs had presumably put a lot of pressure on their resident holdout defenseman to sign now or instead risk watching his value to the team diminish exponentially after each game moving forward.
It had gotten so bad that respected pundits had begun whispering that a trade was on a horizon.
It’s true: What was once an impossibility was being heralded by TSN analyst Bob McKenzie of all people, a beacon of all that is good, holy and big headed in hockey, as “heading toward a trade” (via the Montreal Gazette).
Of course, it didn't get that far, and of course an offer sheet from another team wasn't a viable possibility with owners likely a tad nervous about driving up salaries right after a lockout. In fact, it would seem the Habs even underpaid for Subban's services, which is yet another positive in a season that's suddenly becoming rife with them.
Raphael Diaz (right) and Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens.
While normally having Raphael Diaz lead your team in scoring would be a likely sign of a coming apocalypse ("Diaz?" Could very well be Mayan), it’s important to remember December 21 came and went last year without a hitch.
It was also admittedly hard to gauge Diaz’s game as a whole last season as he was injured for a fair bit of it, playing just 59 games. However, there were times when he did appear to have great offensive instincts, as his time spent in Switzerland would further indicate (seven goals, 22 assists in 32 games with the National League A’s EV Zug during the lockout).
One must point out, though, that his five assists are little proof of his prowess in the opposition’s zone. It has just been three games. After five games in 2008-09, then-New York Ranger Aaron Voros led the league in points with seven, after all.
Still, Diaz’s level of production, whether it stays constant the entire season or not, is a definite positive just like the fact that Montreal is currently averaging over three goals per game.
Andrei Markov? Four goals, more than in 2010-11 and 2011-12 combined (one).
Max Pacioretty? The recent appendicitis patient has four assists, evidencing there’s more to his game than just potting goals (although a few here and there would be welcome once he gets healthy).
Brian Gionta? Three points already, showing few signs of rust after playing just 31 games last year.
Bottom line? The guys that are supposed to be putting up points are, along with several pleasant surprises. I mean, Josh Gorges of all people, who has never scored more than four goals in a season, is on pace for 12… during a half-season.
Now, that, at the very least, should bring a smile to your face…or send you running, canned goods in tow, to your private bunker.
Scott Gomez, formerly of the Montreal Canadiens.
It’s sad to say, but it was a definite possibility two weeks ago.
Had Scott Gomez actually been paid to do nothing all year by the Montreal Canadiens, the team as a whole and not just he would have been the butt of jokes across the hockey world for years to come.
Now, all is as it should be, with Montreal paying him to play hockey…well, for a different team, but, still, progress, people. Progress.
Terms like “cancer,” “distraction,” “needlessly bald,” and “couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a puck” may be casually tossed around in reference to the dude without sufficient evidence to back them up (two of those claims anyway). But, at the end of the day, the fact remains Gomez just wasn’t working out in Montreal. Hence the buy-out.
Seasons of two and seven goals and at one point a whole calendar year without a single one are all now behind both him and the Habs, and fans can let the healing process finally begin.
Now a San Jose Shark, Gomez is clearly in a good place himself, both emotionally and physically in the Western Conference, far away from wrathful Montrealers who may very well be on the verge of discovering all the benefits of hot stone therapy, namely hurling hot stones at people within throwing distance.
Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens.
Goalie Carey Price is in fine all-star form to start this season. His 1.73 goals-against average and .936 save percentage are other-worldly to say the least.
At least they would be were it not for Ottawa Senator Craig Anderson, who owns an average of one full goal less per game. Sure, strap an actual Spartan helmet on Anderson and you could definitely enter him in a Marvin the Martian look-alike contest, but, no, the only alien here is the sense of success to Habs fans.
Montreal may not have the best record, but they are playing like a playoff team, especially after easily dispatching the good-on-paper Washington Capitals by a score of 4-1 on Thursday. And a big reason behind the team’s success is, surprise, surprise, the backstop himself, who has given up just seven goals in the first four games of the season.
Before fans get too carried away in their admiration for Price and swept up in the moment in time for Valentine’s Day, here are a few facts to help keep you grounded:
1. Jaroslav Halak still has a better GAA so far this season,
2. Lars Eller, the player for whom Halak was traded, has been benched in recent games and
3. A lot can happen over the course of the season’s remaining 44 games.
Nevertheless, these first four have made those remaining 44 ones worth watching.