Here is a bold prediction that I made back on September 13: “Montreal will be the fourth straight eight seed that got past the first round to fail to make the playoffs the following season.”
Now, I’m not going to back away from that statement until I see more of this team; it has just been nine games. However, if these nine games are a small sample of what’s to come this season in Montreal, all the doubters (including yours truly) will be proven wrong.
Jacques Martin’s crew is 6-2-1 and leading the Northeast Division. They have gotten timely goal-scoring and goaltending as they’ve won five of their last six.
The reason why I was dead-set on believing the Canadiens would fall short of the postseason was Carey Price. How was he going to deal with the pressure of being the number one? Will he turn into the goaltender we all expect him to be? Can he carry the burden without a 1B-type backup?
It seemed like too many questions to be answered – just with Price alone. I also felt a hangover from their Cinderella run was possible as they seemingly overachieved in the postseason.
Price has been a bright spot so far, though. He has been clutch in key situations, and the three losses should not be pinned on him. What’s also impressive is that he has started all nine games for Montreal (which could change this weekend).
While I still think he can still improve his game, the biggest thing going for him is that those boos from the pre-season have disappeared.
Another standout in this hot streak has been Andrei Kostitsyn. He has been a bit of an enigma since his breakout campaign in 2007/08. Consistency was a struggle for him, but it’s been anything but thus far. Maybe getting separated from his brother Sergei was the right solution?
Kostitsyn leads the Habs with 10 points, including five goals in the last five games. Tomas Plekanec has been a great playmaker alongside Kostitsyn; those two have shown great chemistry here in October. Plekanec has been stellar all around, being the catalyst of the offense through nine games. If Michael Cammalleri – the other contributor on that top line – can find his scoring touch, look out!
A couple unsung heroes for the Canadiens thus far are Jeff Halpern and P.K. Subban. Halpern has won nearly 60-percent of his faceoffs, while chipping in with five points. Remember, he was a late bargain signing by GM Pierre Gauthier (Sept. 7).
Subban, a rookie, is logging over 22 minutes of ice-time – second on the team. His calm presence on the back end is almost unheard of for his age (21). If the season ended today, he would get my Calder Trophy vote.
Not to mention, defenseman Andrei Markov is almost set to return to the lineup, which will be a big shot in the arm for the Habs on the blueline. Markov suffered a torn ACL in last spring’s playoffs against Pittsburgh and is just now getting back to full strength.
Markov should provide a lift to the power play, too. The man advantage, quarterbacked by Markov, is usually something that the Canadiens feed off of. Last year they ranked second in the league; three years ago they were first.
Without the services of Markov, though, Montreal has suffered on the power play, striking at a putrid 6.1-percent rate (last in the NHL). Can you imagine how good this club could be if the power play returns to its usual success?
For the Habs to ultimately keep this success going, Price will have to stay consistent, the offense can’t slow down, and the power play needs to improve. If those things happen, they’ll be on their way to proving us doubters wrong.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.