Carey Price and Daniel Briere
The Montreal Canadiens are two games away from their 17-day break, at which point the hockey world will shift its attention to the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games.
Montreal is fresh off a 2-0 win over the Calgary Flames and will be looking to make it two straight wins Thursday, Feb. 6 over the Pacific division when it hosts the Vancouver Canucks. It wraps up the week in Carolina Saturday, Feb. 8.
The Habs currently sit third in the Atlantic Division with 66 points in 57 games. Not bad considering how much they have struggled over the past two months.
From an individual standpoint, Montreal has had some great individual performances to get the team to where it currently is. Others haven't been so great and will need to up their game after the Olympics.
Here are some grades for Montreal's biggest stars ahead of the 2014 Olympic Games.
The knock on Max Pacioretty has always been inconsistency. He has been known to disappear for games at a time, not only failing to score, but failing to do much of anything on the ice.
The Canadiens have been waiting for him to grow as a player and deliver a more consistent effort each night.
That might finally be happening.
Back in November, Pacioretty had one of his patented slumps. He went seven games while posting just one assist. This was after returning from injury, however, so it can be excused.
Then, on Nov. 19 against the Minnesota Wild, Pacioretty was reunited with his linemates David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher, and he erupted for a hat trick. That seemed to turn his season around.
Since then, he has scored 18 goals and has nine assists in 35 games. His longest goalless streak has been four games (it happened twice), a short slump by standards set by Pacioretty early in his career.
Over the past 3.5 months, the 25-year-old has been Montreal's best offensive forward on most nights. He has used his speed to gain the zone and his size to keep possession. He leads the Habs in shots on goal by 17 even though he has played in nine less games than second-place Tomas Plekanec.
The offensively challenged Canadiens need Pacioretty to be on his game every night, and for the most part, he has delivered this season. His "A" grade has been well earned as he heads to Sochi to suit up for Team USA.
Tomas Plekanec is having the kind of season that earns him top grades all around. He is Montreal's best checking forward, its best penalty killer and a solid offensive contributor.
Plekanec lines up against the opposition's best line each night and usually shuts it down. He then teams up with Travis Moen to form one of the league's top penalty-killing duos. And he's third in team scoring.
On the season, Plekanec has 16 goals and 16 assists in 57 games. He's also tied for the team lead in plus/minus at plus-six and second in shots on goal with 158.
Plekanec deserves every bit of his "A+" rating in 2013-14. He's Montreal's most valuable player (not counting Carey Price) and will play a huge role in the team's playoff run after the Olympic break.
P.K. Subban is Montreal's best player. This much we know. He, along with Carey Price, are the only reasons Habs fans hold on to any hope when they witness their team get blown out of the water four games in a row, like what happened two weeks ago.
The 24-year-old is fresh off his first Norris Trophy, and while he probably won't win it this year, he is having another fine season.
Through 57 games, Subban has eight goals and 30 assists. He leads his team in scoring and is fourth in shots on goal. He is second in ice time at 25:01 per game (Andrei Markov's 25:13 is tops).
Yet Subban's grade falls a bit due to his recent dip in offensive production.
Since his goal and three assists outburst Jan. 2 against the Dallas Stars, Subban has just one goal and four assists in 15 games. It's probably not by coincidence that the Habs have also won just six times over that span.
Teams obviously know that shutting down Subban is key to shutting down the Canadiens attack. They adjust their defensive strategy accordingly. But that's what happens to stars in the NHL. Subban will have to learn to adjust.
The Canadiens need Subban to help them generate offense. Their forwards just aren't good enough to do it alone. He has had a great season in 2013-14 and has earned an "A-" grade. A little more offensive production after the Olympics will get his grade bumped up by season's end.
Andrei Markov is a solid veteran defenseman who is important to Montreal's success. Although he's aging, he still possesses a great first pass out of the defensive zone and terrific offensive vision in the opponent's zone.
Yet lately, it seems that the wear and tear of a full NHL season is taking its toll on his 35-year-old body and twice-repaired knee.
Simply put, Markov looks slow as of late—really slow.
Opposing forwards have been skating past or around him with ease. He gets beat easily, which creates odd-man rushes and leaves his partner Alexei Emelin out to dry.
He has also developed an inability to keep pucks in the offensive zone when they come to him at the blue line, something that has killed Montreal's offensive momentum time and time again over the past month or so.
Since the calendar flipped to 2014, Markov has finished as a plus just four times in 16 games. His age seems to be finally taking its toll.
And unfortunately for Markov, the Olympic break won't provide much rest. He will head to Sochi where Team Russia will lean on him as its No.1 defenseman.
Markov is an important part of Montreal's defense, but because of his recent struggles, he earns just a "B" so far. The Canadiens will need Markov to be better on the back end after the Olympics.
Carey Price continues to carry the Montreal Canadiens on his back in 2013-14. As he prepares to head to Sochi with Team Canada, he's as hot as he's been all season.
Over the past four games, he has made 130 saves on 134 shots and has posted two shutouts in the process. Granted, only the shutouts were wins, but he's not to blame for that.
On the season, his record stands at 24-17-5 with a 2.37 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage.
Price has been Montreal's MVP so far this season, and its success post-Olympics will depend on him sustaining his high level of play. He has earned his A+ grade ahead of the Olympic break.