The Maple Leafs offense is in a funk, the special teams are among the league's worst and the players compete levels are being questioned night in, night out.
In Montreal, the atmosphere is completely different. The Canadiens currently sit third overall in the Eastern Conference with an impressive record of 17-8-2.
There were plenty of question marks for the Habs heading into the season, the biggest of which had to be whether or not goaltender Carey Price would be able to rise to the challenge of being the No. 1 goalie in Montreal, a challenge he has answered with MVP-like numbers.
While many Canadien fans have been quick to jump on the Price bandwagon, one cannot ignore the job that head coach Jacques Martin is doing with his squad.
Martin, who has been criticized over his career for not getting the full potential out of his players, has stars and rookies alike all buying into his system—those who do not buy in, like P.K. Subban, have found themselves on the bench or on the sidelines.
Sitting out a top performer like Subban was a gutsy move by Martin, a move that he hopes will pay dividends down the road.
Subban found himself in the press box after some questionable play against the Edmonton Oilers led to both the tying and game-winning goals.
Subban, who had been playing excellent hockey up to that point, was guilty of taking a couple of shifts off, something Martin has not tolerated from his players since he came to the Canadiens organization.
Martin’s handling of Price (allowing him to be the No. 1 guy) was a stroke of genius—of course it helps that Price is playing inspired hockey, perhaps the best hockey of his young career.
Martin seems to have figured out how to keep his team on the even keel in Montreal—not an easy thing to do for veterans, never mind the youngsters. Martin’s patience and ability to put players into roles where they will succeed has been well documented this season, all this in the face of losing top defenseman Andrei Markov.
As good as the Canadiens were in last year's playoffs, it was surprising to see more than a few “experts” picking the Habs to finish the season in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference standings, with many speculating that Montreal would miss the playoffs.
With that in mind, it’s easy to suggest that Martin—who won the Jack Adams Award in 1998-1999 as the Ottawa Senators head coach—should get plenty of support to be this year's Jack Adams award winner; that is as long as the Habs keep it up.
Montreal finished the 2009-10 season averaging 2.56 goals for per game, ranking them 18th overall. This season Martin has his team averaging 2.63 goals per game, good enough for 19th overall.
Where the Canadiens have enjoyed the most success is on the defensive side of the game—averaging 2.66 goals against per game (13th overall) in 2009-10, compared to 1.96 GA per game, good enough for an impressive second overall, just slightly behind the Boston Bruins 1.88 GA per game.
One of the biggest factors is Montreal’s ability to kill penalties. Through 27 games, the Canadiens were killing off an average of 90.1 percent of opposing teams power plays, which has to be up there with some of the best PK’s in NHL history.
Much of the accolades should be directed to Price and the rest of the players for performing at such a high level, but one cannot ignore the importance of the coaches system.
Washington Capitals head coach Bruce Bodreau will get a lot of votes for top NHL coach, as will Detroit Red Wings bench boss Mike Babcock. An argument can be made for Philadelphia Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette, while Guy Boucher (Tampa Bay), Marc Crawford (Dallas Stars) and, to a lesser extent, Craig Ramsey (Atlanta Thrashers) should get some consideration.
Let’s face it, nobody has ever won the Jack Adams Award this side of Christmas, but given how well the Canadiens have played, I suspect Jacques Martin will be a finalist, if not the winner.
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Until next time,