The Montreal Canadiens Answer Some Questions Early On
What a difference a year makes. Last season, after eight games, the Montreal Canadiens had suffered a five game losing streak and had only managed to accumulate six points.
Right now the Habs are at the top of their division and tied with Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh for the conference lead. They’ve not yet lost two games in a row, and a few of the things that bothered me going into this season no longer cause me to gnash my teeth in worry.
First and foremost on my list of things I was concerned about heading into this season was the goaltending. Will Carey Price rise to the challenge following the fan outcry over the trading of Jaroslav Halak, or will the exacting nature of the position coupled with the harsh glare of the Montreal spotlight continue to undermine his confidence?
The answer is that Price is solid. He looms large in the net, soft goals no longer shake him or his team, and his confidence is growing after every win. He’s been the consummate professional that his teammates lauded him to be at the end of last season’s playoff run—despite the sometimes unfair treatment of his own fanbase.
I have yet to watch a game the Habs lost this season where this kid was part of the problem.
The Halak Trade
I didn’t like the trading of Halak for a number of reasons, but the return of Lars Eller has done a lot to reverse that opinion. While I do dislike him being used primarily as a third line winger or a fourth line center, there’s no question that this kid is a solid investment for the future of the Habs.
He has the potential to be Tomas Plekanec 2.0, and if that’s the case Pierre Gauthier made a really good trade for playoff hero Halak. My only gripe about Eller is that he can’t feed wingers with stone hands, and if the Habs want him to play the wing, Jacques Martin ought to at least try him out on the Scott Gomez – Brian Gionta line.
With that said, Eller looks more comfortable and dangerous at center even on the fourth line. In a total reversal to an article I posted a few weeks back, I’d probably rather keep him anchoring the third line at this point.
The Two Wingers
Before this season I could not for the life of me figure out why Andrei Kostitsyn got drafted by the Canadiens ahead of Jeff Carter or Zach Parise.
Now, however, it seems perfectly understandable.
If he’s going to play like this all season, I’m going to want to keep him. I don’t know why he was so hot and cold last year, and I don’t really care anyway. I just want this version of Andrei to stick around.
Along with Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri, Kostitsyn has become outright lethal. Here is a line with blistering speed, skill, and intelligence that just got a fantastic boost in power and size thanks to Kostitsyn's renewed efforts.
It’s not an easy magic to find, but I have to give props to Jacques Martin here for finding it with these three.
What I refuse to give props to Martin for is the revolving door of wingers on the second line. Mike Cammalleri said it best after the Habs beat the Phoenix Coyotes last night.
“I’m a big believer that the longer you stay together, the more chemistry you can build and the more dynamic you can be offensively.”
Cammalleri gets it, but Jacques doesn’t seem to.
Tom Pyatt was never going to finish that play from Gionta last night. As much as I like Pyatt, he simply doesn’t possess the skill set to play Gomez’s wing. Neither do Travis Moen or Mathieu Darche.
I’d really like to see Benoit Pouliot get more than three games or three shifts on that line, because there have been moments when he has seemed to spark a bit with Gomez and Gionta. Having played with them for the last half of the 2009-2010 season, I think he deserves more time to help find some chemistry.
Last night’s couple of lazy plays aside, for the most part I’ve found Pouliot’s been working much harder this year and has a better attitude and focus. He’s also hitting more, forcing turnovers and while his positioning needs work, he is showing improvement over his lackadaisical play that marked the end of last year’s campaign.
Other than the revolving door of second line wingers, though, my gripes about this team right now are refreshingly few and far between. I’m enjoying watching my team this year. They’re much less Jekyll-and-Hyde than last season’s Habs.
This year they’re better meshed, have remembered to use their speed when they’re behind the eight ball, and have found a group spirit that allows them to fire each other up and play their system with confidence.
It’s an important carryover from the team’s playoff run.
After the Habs beat the Ottawa Senators last Saturday night, Carey Price said it was the best team he’s played behind in a long time.
Happily, I’d have to agree.
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