Although it is still early in the season, there seems to be many surprising facts we can find to the 2008-09 Montreal Canadiens.
Some of these facts are good, and some are rather bad.
Andrei Kostitsyn is showing the skills that made sure he is here to stay. He started the season off somewhat slowly, but has been showing signs of being one incredible player.
Take the goal he scored last night (December 4) against the New York Rangers, for example, where he ended up lying on his back after making a difficult shot.
Alex Tanguay has played his best when paired up with captain Saku Koivu. The two have an amazing connection where they can blindly pass the puck and somehow just know the other will be there.
Most assumed that Tanguay was a risky signing for Bob Gainey to make, but yet again, Gainey showed he knows what he is doing. I don't expect Tanguay to slow down his pace throughout the last three quarters of the season unless he or Koivu sustains a serious injury.
Saku Koivu has also been turning heads. Most expected him to already be past his prime, but the captain is leading the team in points right now and proving to all Habs fans that he, not Alex Kovalev as some claim, is the real leader of the team. Koivu is doing just what a captain is supposed to do.
Carey Price has had his off days, but there is no goalie in this world who is perfect. A lot of the goals that have been scored against him has been because of bad defensive decisions, bad rebounds, or hard shots like a one-timer. Losing the weight over the summer has clearly been a huge contribution for his speed. The kid still does not lose his cool even when facing an incredible amount of shots in one game.
Andrei Markov has truly been slumping. While he still is producing points, he is nowhere near the skill level he showed us last season. This is likely due to the lack of help on the point, which is why the Habs surely miss guys like Sheldon Souray and Mark Streit.
Sergei Kostitsyn has seemed to fall off the face of the Earth with his lack of production. Coach Guy Carboneau is clearly not impressed, either, as he has benched Sergei more than once now. He has also been demoted to the fourth line. It seems as though after sustaining the concussion at the start of the year, Sergei has forgotten the skills that we all know he is capable of.
The power play for the Habs, which had been ranked first in the league for the past two seasons and at a rate of nearly thirty percent, so far has them ranked as a measely twenty-fourth place with a 14.5-percent success rate. Again, this likely ties into no longer having Souray or Streit covering the points for them.
However, this is no excuse. A team should not be so greatly affected by losing one player on the entire team to trade. This year, they cannot even seem to score when having a five-on-three advantage. Part of the blame for the poor power-play success is Kovalev, as well.
Kovalev is likely experiencing the biggest slump of all players. He can't seem to find a way to score, and if he does, he will then go several straight games without a single goal or even point. Last year he led the league in power-play stats, and this season he has barely anything to account for. If things progress in the same manner, Gainey will make use of Kovalev's potential free agency and trade him. He is not showing that he is someone worth spending millions on.
The penalty kill has been just as poor. Right now they rank at 81.4 percent, standing in sixteenth position. It could be sloppy defense that has been making it so poor. Whatever the reason, this is a huge drop from their first ranked penalty kill the past couple of seasons. If the Habs wish to make it far into the playoffs, this is something they without a doubt need to improve on.
There could be more ups and downs listed for the team so far this season, but what is mentioned above is the most significant of them. Expect another article towards the end of the year as a follow-up to this one. Should be interesting to see what has and hasn't changed.
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