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The Montreal Canadiens last year looked like a mediocre aging team that got dragged into the playoffs by the Herculean efforts of goaltender Jaroslav Halak. Their weak, aging defense was one of the most porous in the league. The offense was sporadic at best.
They made the playoffs by earning 15 extra points in four on four overtime and in shootouts. In contrast, two of the teams they beat out for the playoffs the New York Rangers and Atlanta Thrashers earned four and six extra points in overtime and shootouts. The Canadiens barely deserved in be in the playoffs.
Montreal parlayed that rather weak regular season performance into their best playoff run in recent memory. They beat the President's Trophy-winning Washington Capitals and the defending Stanley Cup Champions in two exciting seven game series. They succeeded with desperate defense, timely scoring and incredible goalkeeping.
This year's version of the Canadiens looks better than last year's team at the same time. The defense has improved immeasurably. Carey Price has taken over the hero role from Jaroslav Halak and is currently outdoing what Halak has managed in St Louis. The scoring is very similar to what went on last year, but it has been timelier, just as it was in the playoffs.
The Canadiens are earning their victories in regulation this year. They have a mere five extra points in overtime so far.
There are some younger players, most notably PK Subban, making significant contributions. The addition of James Wisniewski has helped take the load off of the veteran defense that crumbled so often last year.
This team looked like the 19th or 20th best team in the league going into the playoffs last year. They seem closer to being the 12th or 13th best team in the league that they are in the standings right now.
The Canadiens are basically a .500 team against everyone in the league outside their own division. In their division, Montreal has a sparkling 11-3-1 record. If they manage to maintain that success rate, they could even win the Northeast division title, stealing it from the Bruins.
The Montreal Canadiens are middle quality NHL team. They are, however, moving in the right direction. The team looks better, more confident, mostly as a result of the success in last year's playoffs. The defense has been better and younger despite injuries to Josh Gorges and Andrei Markov. From a team with only one strength last season, Jaroslav Halak, they have evolved into a team with only one major weakness, the offense. The Canadiens have no legitimate No. 1 center. The addition of another scorer would take the load of Mike Cammalleri and leave the team capable of weathering an injury to one of their top six forwards.
Montreal looks poised to make the playoffs this year and perhaps win their division and a series or two. Montreal is still two or three very good players away from competing for a Stanley Cup. A healthy Mike Cammalleri is one of those players.