This year's Montreal Canadiens team has been somewhat inconsistent. They are currently ranked fifth in the Eastern Conference with 48 points, including 20 wins. This is a great start considering the Habs missed the NHL playoffs last year.
However, there are a few loose screws in the Montreal camp, including a poor home record (7-7-5) and a less than stellar penalty kill (25th). Also, the team's leaders—Saku Koivu and Michael Ryder in particular—have not contributed as much as hoped.
What should not come as a surprise is Alexei Kovalev's great start. He had been cold the last couple of seasons, with many die hard Montreal fans claiming a lack of effort and a possible retirement in the future. So far he has a team-leading 18 goals and 20 assists for 38 points, while the struggling Ryder only has six goals and eight assists. Many critics say the Canadiens need more fire power.
Certainly goaltending is not an issue with both Cristobal Huet and Carey Price doing the job between the pipes. Huet has a GAA of 2.34 and a .926 save percentage. Price's rookie campaign has been somewhat inconsistent but he shows great promise with a modest nine and seven winning record.
The powerplay, however, has been consistently good. The Canadiens lead the NHL with a 24.2 percent success rate with the man advantage. The league leading Detroit Red Wings come in second with 23.4.
So what seems to be the problem?
Nothing substantial yet, but as the season progresses, the league gets more intense and teams with a lack of defensive and offensive depth slowly fall off the charts. Perhaps Montreal needs a more consistent scorer to add to the mix of Kovalev, Higgins, and Plekanec. Also, a strong, tough blue-liner to accompany Markov could bring Montreal's penalty kill from near the bottom to near the top.
The Montreal Canadiens could be lucky contenders so far, but with enough talent and more consistent scoring, as well as tough defense, they could have a long playoff run. There should be no doubt that Huet and Price can carry much of the second half of the season's weight.
With all of the screws tightened, the critical nay-sayers who claim the Habs symbol is a horseshoe will be forced to eat their words.
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