With the Canadiens having played 24 games this season, it seems like a fitting time to evaluate their quarterly performance.
This means that our format for this week will be a little changed as we will not be recapping the past seven days. Our attention will be solely focused on reviewing the first quarter of the season.
After looking at Montreal's current record (15-8-1, third in Eastern Conference), one can say they have greatly surprised the NHL. In turn, bandwagon jumpers and Hab-Haters have tripled. A winning Canadiens team always has nefarious effects.
But for actual fans of the squad, this is a brilliant beginning, as head coach Jacques Martin and his bunch look to build up somewhat of a cushion in order to ensure their postseason qualification.
It seems as though the nucleus of this team is clicking, with a veteran or two slipping in and out of comas on several occasions.
Team captain, Brian Gionta, is slowly getting back into the form that saw him score 28 goals last year, while Scott Gomez has picked up a lowly seven points. That $8 million cap hit is looking more annoying every day, considering the fact that center-forward Brad Richards is being shopped around. Having played his Junior hockey in Rimouski, why not come back to his roots?
That's obviously out of the question, but one can always dream.
Besides re-signing key pieces, General Manager Pierre Gauthier did nothing in the offseason aside from trading for superstar goalie Jaroslav Halak and signing a diamond in the rough in Jeff Halpern.
Montreal's current supporting cast has made it impossible for anyone to criticize Gauthier's moves, as late signing Halpern and underachiever Benoit Pouliot seem to have found a spark lined up with Mathieu Darche.
Gionta and Gomez look like they weren't the only ones with ice-rust; Michael Cammalleri took quite some time to get started as well. The hot blooded winger's frustrations were evident as he kept pilling up penalties during his mini-drought.
With superstar blue-liner Andrei Markov out for an undetermined amount of time, Cammalleri is currently being used at the power-play point a lot more. Combining his skills with rookie defenseman P.K. Subban has sparked a little more firepower from the man advantage as of late.
Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn's connection is getting stronger every shift; these two are presently on a different level, one player proving his worth after signing a lucrative multi-year deal, and the other looking to perform well before his contract reaches its expiry date in the summer. Both are putting up team leading numbers.
Overall, the offense has often times shown its superior speed in comparison to most of the NHL's flat-footed defensive corps. They are easily entering the zone, winning races for the puck and hypnotizing the opposition with tape to tape passing.
The negative has usually always been the size that Montreal carries up front. I've decided not to bore you with the regular mumbo-jumbo we hear about the squad's strength deficiencies.
Lars Eller, Travis Moen and Benoit Pouliot have all thrown their weight around when needed. For a squad looking to concentrate more on blistering speed, an offensively challenged biggger body is that extra spice that shouldn't be added to the Gumbo.
We'll re-evaluate the situation at the trade deadline or even call up the likes of Ryan White or Max Pacioretty if things suddenly go awry.
Grade: 85 percent
With Carey Price posting such amazing numbers, Josh Gorges and co. have only one thing to take care of: protect their hot-shot goalie.
Keeping their goalie in consistent physical and mental form is the key to their game, along with reducing visits after the whistle by opposing players, clearing the crease and limiting the turnovers.
What department is most likely to lead the Habs to a successful Q2?
That all sounds simple, but can this aging defensive corps handle it? It's a little too early in the season to properly analyse the situation since a lot of the older players take that much more time to get their skates adequately laced up.
P.K. Subban has been inspiring his teammates to cross the offensive blue line, mimicking what a lot of teams are doing this season. With Markov absent, everyone will have to emulate this facet of his game that makes him so successful.
When venturing outside of the box, it's always important to secure the contents inside of it. Looking for opportunities to chip in is extraordinary; choosing the right moment is essential.
Most of the forwards in the lineup understand this dynamic. Very seldom will we see a blue-liner going deep into the opposition's zone while leaving his main position unattended.
Running this play in practice will ultimately make it perfect.
Grade 80 percent
Simple math is so much fun. By using cross-multiplication, I calculated that at this rate, back-up goalie Alex Auld will play a total of 6.83 games this season.
That's if Carey Price continues to cement his candidature for the Vezina Trophy.
Price currently leads the league in wins (14) and shutouts (four); he is also in the top five in terms of goals against average and save percentage.
When the Canadiens look like they've all ingested codeine, Price stands on his head. When the Habs dominate and let a few breakaways slip by, Price makes the highlight reel saves.
What more can we ask from a kid who is under so much pressure?
It's bad enough Gauthier traded away fan favorite Jaroslav Halak in the summer, but all of this happening in a tough hockey city like Montreal makes it ten times worse.
The young British Columbia native is reacting rather well to the preseason criticism he received from some of the Bell Center faithful by urging them to chill and practicing what he preaches. More often than not, he does this by looking as cool as a cucumber in front of the cage.
His escapades outside of his crease are no longer impulsive. They are now premeditated, calculated efforts that supply the wingers with quicker first passes, leaving the heavy forechecking teams and back-checking for survival.
Price's positioning and lateral movement have also produced some of his most brilliant efforts. Goaltenders coach Pierre Groulx has properly analysed his number one keeper's faults and is helping him realize his true potential.
I've embedded a video recapping Price's stellar season debut; some "save of the year" candidates included.
Grade: 95 percent
Let's shorten up the words a little. Penalty kill second in the league, no further explanation needed. Price, Pyatt, Plekanec and Halpern are key figures in that department.
You guessed it, we get to save a little more space for the struggling power play. Yes, it looks to have been in top form as of late but has been absolutely horrendous all season.
With so many close games played, often times losses could've been avoided if Montreal had taken advantage of the opposition's penalty giving.
Seeing this, important major adjustments were made. Giveaways have been diminished; play spreading has been promoted.
That one extra pass to get the goalie out of position was all the Canadiens needed, no one seemed to point it out for about twenty games.
As mentioned in one of my previous articles, Montreal's point-men need to take lower shots. What good is a 100 mph slap shot if it has absolutely no accuracy?
I'm looking at you, Mr. Subban.
The extra-man unit presently stands as the 21st ranked power-play in the league. Look for them to leap-frog a few teams from now until our Q2 evaluation.
Grade: 75 percent
Overall Grade 83.5 percent
That's it for this week folks; look for our regular weekly wrap-up column next Sunday evening. Don't hesitate to comment and discuss with your own grades.
As usual keep it clean and respectful!
Remember to follow me on Twitter @SupaflySteve if ever you feel like following yet another person that will fail to entertain you on that long bus ride to work.
Until next time, you stay classy Hab-Hounds.