Here we are creeping up on the Montreal Canadiens 10th game of the season and the Habs record stands at 7-1-1. Reason to celebrate, right? Heads held high, swagger in the walk, bragging rights and so on, isn't that how it goes when a team has that kind of record? So why did I shut the game off last night after Montreal's gritty 2-1 win over the Minnesota Wild feeling uneasy?
Carey Price had arguably his best game of the young season, stopping 28 shots and keeping the Habs in the game during 10 minor penalties including 3 two-man down situations. He was solid throughout the game, standing up in his net, not giving rebounds and basically shutting down the Wild entirely. He has been very good for the Canadiens but not stellar. He has yet to steal a game for them even though yesterday's win and the shootout victory against Carolina Tuesday night we're largely thanks to him. If he can pick up his game to the superstar level that is expected of him, Montreal will be very tough to beat.
The Canadiens special teams are off to a slow start this year, yesterday's 10 penalty kills pushed them up from middle of the pack to ninth best in the league but the power play is nowhere near the lethal levels of last season. Alex Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec are partly to blame for that. Their line has yet to fire on all cylinders. Luckily Saku Koivu and his new line mate Alex Tanguay have been spectacular! Their chemistry has even made Guillaume Latendresse look so good that Chris Higgins has been kept out of his expected spot on that line. The Habs' second line has been so good in fact that their stats alone have lifted the Canadiens to the best +/- ratio in the NHL.
The defense in Montreal has been consistent with the notable exceptions of: on one end Andrei Markov, tied for top scoring defenseman and en route to another All-Star year, and on the other end Ryan O'Bourne, being benched was not what he expected of his sophomore year. Mike Komisarek, Roman Hamrlik, Josh Gorges and Francis Bouillon have been solid and irreproachable.
In short, you can’t really complain when you look at the standings and the stats, but the last few wins have been close games marked by a lack of 60 minute efforts from all the players. Guy Carbonneau's job over the next few weeks will not be an easy one. He will have to squeeze the talent and hard work from his team even harder if he expects to reach the lofty goals management and, most importantly, the fans have set for them.