Montreal Canadiens: 5 Reasons They Are a Playoff Team
They were the worst team in the Eastern Conference last year, or at least that's what the NHL standings said.
The Montreal Canadiens, the team with the most glorious history in the NHL, could not get out of their own way.
They struggled to put the puck in the net. They went through multiple coaches. The front office did not have a workable plan.
But the start of the 2013 season has shown that the Canadiens are a much-improved team. They are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference and they have a team that opponents must prepare for fully if they are going to survive.
This was a team that made the playoffs in 2010-11 and pushed the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins to overtime of the seventh game.
The 2013 Canadiens are much closer to that team than the 2011-12 team that regularly fell apart.
The Canadiens will make the playoffs this year and here's why:
Carey Price is a goaltender capable of shutting down an opponent's offense any time he takes the ice.
Price has the size, glove hand, and stellar reflexes to make save after save and keep the Canadiens in any game.
He has gotten off to a good start this season, recording a 7-3-0 record with a 2.27 goals against average and a .915 save percentage.
Canadiens' fans have been waiting for Price to become a dominant goaltender, and he will still have to prove it over the course of the season. But the start has been a good one for him and if he improves just a bit, he can get to the top of the NHL's goaltending heap.
The Canadiens fell down early last year and instead of picking themselves up and playing harder, they went into a downward spiral that they could not control.
That's one of the reasons they hired Michel Therrien to come back for his second tour of duty with the Canadiens. He is someone who is not willing to accept losing or bumps in the road.
Instead, he is demanding discipline and effort from his team at all times.
Therrien knows the very least a competent coach can do is demand the best effort from his players at all times.
He is finally getting that and he is not about to relent. He has made the Canadiens much tougher and more confident.
Take a look at the Montreal Canadiens' team stats and you will see center Tomas Plekanec leading the team in scoring with 11 points.
However, the second- and third-leading scorers are defensemen Andrei Markov (10 points) and Raphael Diaz (nine points).
The 34-year-old Markov has been troubled by injuries the past two seasons that have limited him to 20 games. Markov is healthy again and he is fully involved and has become one of the team's best on-ice leaders.
Diaz is also setting the tone and playing solid defense. His passing has allowed him to register nine assists and he is regularly in the right place at the right time.
P.K. Subban got off to a late start as a result of a contract holdout, but he has played six games and has three goals and three assists while averaging just under 20 minutes of ice time per game. Subban has showed off his booming shot from the point and he gives the Canadiens the ability to threaten every time they are on the power play.
The Canadiens have gotten a lift from rookies Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher.
Are they dominating the score sheet every game and making Canadiens fans think of Jean Beliveau and Yvan Cournoyer? Not exactly, but they are having an impact.
Galchenyuk sees the ice well, has excellent instincts and has scored one goal and has six assists. He also has a plus-six rating. Gallagher has four goals and two assists and is plus-five. He has a certain explosiveness to his game that makes him a joy to watch.
These youngsters are likely to improve as the season progresses and they could be a solid part of Therrien's game plan by the time the postseason begins.
The Page Has Been Turned
The 2011-12 season is part of the history books.
Just the fact that the Canadiens could turn the page on the calendar lifted a weight from their shoulders.
The disastrous regime of former general manager Pierre Gauthier is over. Marc Bergevin has a plan to get the Canadiens back on track.
The same goes for Michel Therrien and his coaching staff. Despite the way they played last year under Jacques Martin and Randy Cunneyworth, the Canadiens have a talented group of players that includes Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Brian Gionta, Lars Eller and a healthy Rene Bourque. They have been much more effective this season.
This should be enough to get the Canadiens back in the playoffs and give them a chance to be a tough out for any opponent.