Being a typical Habs fan, I know full well there are often times when I’m overly critical of my team. For me, nitpicking is sometimes half the fun and there’s usually enough company to keep me entertained.
But this is not going to be one of those types of posts.
Remember my wish list prior to the start of the season? I know it’s only early days yet, but I’d like to just revisit some points on that list if I may because several of those are pretty much why I’m feeling quite positive about my team right now.
My initial wish was better 5-on-5 scoring. So far the Canadiens have only one power play goal, courtesy of Josh Gorges during the Buffalo game on Friday night. In order to take three of the five games they have won so far, the Habs have learned how to score without the man advantage.
Last year they were near the bottom of the heap in this category. I’m not liking that the power play has issues right now, but I do like it an awful lot that we’re no longer suddenly living or dying by it.
My second wish, which tied directly in with the first, was shot counts. I said that in order to improve their 5-on-5 tally, the Habs would have to start outshooting their opponents, something they rarely did last year.
Not only has Montreal outshot their opponents in four of their last five outings, they’ve also taken steps to lower shots at their own net. In stark contrast, last season it was pretty much commonplace for Carey Price or Jaroslav Halak to get shelled, each netminder regularly facing well over 30 shots.
When the team is in the defensive zone lately they look a lot like they did during the playoffs, with almost all of his on-ice teammates surrounding the net to help Price out. Ottawa was limited to a mere 19 shots at the Habs net last night, and the night before Buffalo only managed 23.
This is an encouraging and swift change from the 38 shots the Penguins took against them only a few nights before. While they’ve dropped two games despite the counts, it’s awfully encouraging to see Habs make a swift, hard effort to work on this area that clearly needed improvement.
In citing balance, I pointed out that this team needed to have more contribution from the rest of the lineup and not rely solely on its top two lines to win all the games.
Already there have been key offensive contributions from Maxim Lapierre, Dustin Boyd, Josh Gorges, Alex Picard and Jeff Halpern. While a lot of criticism has been leveled at the second line for its slow start, I’m not seeing a whole lot of praise for the offensive depth the team seems to have found.
It’s a promising start, and one that makes me think this team might be more dangerous offensively this year than a lot of people have predicted, including me.
This is something I’ve touched on more than once, largely with regards to Scott Gomez – Brian Gionta, and more recently with the Tomas Plekanec – Michael Cammalleri duos, but there’s no denying that Andrei Kostitsyn has also managed to find a touch of the magic along with his line mates this season.
Whether due to injury or lack of effort he was largely ineffective in the latter half of last season. This season his hard work and effort seems to have allowed him to tap into the chemistry flowing between Plekanec and Cammalleri, and as a result that entire line is quickly becoming outright lethal.
The bottom two lines also seem to have found a nice flow, and if Jacques Martin ever stops shuffling left wingers around the second line, there’s reason to believe the Gomez – Gionta magic will resurrect itself there as well.
Last year after letting in two goals on two shots the Habs would have likely folded or panicked. This time they worked hard, kept their focus, played smart and determined hockey, and came away with a win against a Senators team that ran roughshod over them all last season.
Overall I like a lot of what I’m seeing on the ice from the Canadiens right now. There’s a steady improvement beginning to show, a direct result of hard work and collective effort among team mates who have tapped into their identity, their unity, and some leadership.
I saw glimpses of this fighting team spirit and passion last season, and got a good look at it during the playoffs. This season I’m hoping to take it for granted.