With 18 goals and a few public relations issues, Alex Kovalev left the fans sceptic at the end if the 2006-07 season. For some reason - that others would qualify to be laziness - "the Artist" was visibly not playing at his best. When questioned about whether or not he would come back with the team, he joked that if he does not, the medias would have nothing to talk about. Well, thank God he did.
With 84 points in 82 games, he now leads the team and proudly holds the post of alternate captain. That is why for a top 10 countdown, he comes for sure on top of my list.
So, my Canadiens top ten surprises:
1) Alex Kovalev: the re-birth. He is currently among the 15 best NHL players, before guys such as Mike Ribeiro, Martin St. Louis, and Dany Heatley. I guess the only thing missing in his amazing season was an All-Star game appearance. But as he declared himself, the Montreal Canadiens is his all-star team.
2) Bob Gainey's sixth sense. Last February, he shocked more than one in trading away the team's official number one goalie, Cristobal Huet. Despite the shocking context, Bob Gainey has once again the last word. He made a risky bet by putting Carey Price in the net, and it paid off. Price has been amazing ever since, and even if he does not get the Calder Trophy, a Stanley Cup contention is much better!
3) Guy Carbonneau. During the post-season analysis last year, coach Carbo declared he too would need improvements behind the bench. Now considered for the Jack Adams Trophy, he obviously deserves most of the credits for the team's present success. There have been scratches, switches, and sometimes goalie issues but the coach took more good decisions than bad ones. One of them: the use of four lines which is the factor of an almost injury-free season.
4) The power play. After Sheldon Souray's departure to the Edmonton Oilers, I was convinced the team would sink like a rock under water since no one would be there to score on power plays. Like many I guess, I did not figure out at the start of the season that Mark Streit, Andrei Markov and Alex Kovalev would take the lead. Montreal has the best power play in the league for the second consecutive year, with 90 goals.
5) Andrei Markov. Since Souray left, Markov has been imposing himself on the blue line. He is now ranked sixth best defense-man in points (58), and fifth best in goals with 16. He earned a ticket to Atlanta to represent the Canadiens at the All-Star game.
6) Andrei Kostitsyn. The young and talented Belorussian completes the first trio with Alexei Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec. Last year already, he was called the new "AK". He is currently among the seven players of the team with 50 points and more. He made the highlights of the night several times this season, with amazing Hockey skills shows.
7) Sergei Kostitsyn. During his Junior years, the younger bro already played on the same line as Patrick Kane and Sam Gagner. Called up from Hamilton by the Canadiens last December, he earned a spot sometimes on the second trio with Saku Koivu, sometimes on the "Kids' line" with Latendresse and Lapierre. He has impressed with his passing, speed and skating abilities. And from time to time, he drops the gloves!
8) Tom Kostopoulos. Coming from the LA Kings, he signed with the team last summer. Honestly, I was wondering how exactly he was expected to help the team. We agree here, he is not a big scorer and is doing fine on the fourth line. But one thing that got me to appreciate this player is his team spirit. When the time comes to ask for respect to the other team, "TK" never backs down.
9) Josh Georges. "Josh who"? Well, he did not make that big of a hit at his arrival at the trade deadline last year. Put on healthy scratch several times at the season start, he has now brought his game to the upper level. Replacing Mike Komisarek on the special units, he plays with Andrei Markov and is close to 20 minutes of time on ice since Komi's injury.
10) Last but not least, of course the Eastern Conference Title. We all know, the last time Montreal had that much success, it was in 1992-93. Impressive!
-Carey Price has been named NHL first star of the last week of the regular season. The second is Jaromir Jagr, and the third is Cristobal Huet.
-GM Bob Gainey held a press conference earlier this afternoon. He declared to be proud of the accomplishments of the team so far. Recalling the first objective being a playoff spot, he stated that the team has now a new target: the Stanley Cup.
To be continued ...