PENTICTON, BC. — Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ as the team is having its best start to a season in its long history. Feel free to post your comments as they are always welcomed.
1- Fans and media are trying to figure out what is more impressive: the team’s record to start this season or the offensive output thus far. Not only have the Canadiens won their first nine games heading into Vancouver, but they are a whooping plus – 23, having scored 35 goals this season and only allowing 12, best in the NHL in both categories!
2- Talking to some fans of other teams, they are a bit shocked to see Carey Price starting the season where he left off last year, perhaps even better. Most anticipated that he would need a few weeks to get back in the groove but it hasn’t be the case at all. He does have an improved defense in front of him and most times, he doesn’t have to worry about second and third chances as they are quick to get the puck out of their zone, something that Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock pointed out after their 3-0 loss to Montreal.
3- So far this season, the Habs seem to have found a true first line, or one that produces like it for the time being. In the team’s first nine games, Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher have produced 16 goals, added 14 assists for 30 points and have a combined plus – 31 differential. Whether or not they can keep that pace remains to be seen, but those are encouraging news for a team looking for offensive improvement over the last couple of seasons.
4- From the back end, no need to look further than the pairing of veteran Andrei Markov and Norris caliber P.K. Subban who both help pinch in offensively, combining with 20 points in those nine games so far, with a differential of plus – 22. It is interesting to see that both have one goal, nine assists and are plus – 11. The only difference is that Subban averages two more minutes of ice time per game, which is good for the Russian defenseman.
5- The play of the second pairing of Alexei Emelin and Jeff Petry has a lot to do with the Canadiens’ success so far. According to many around the team, Emelin is perhaps the early favourite as the team’s unsung hero and Petry, with his great skating ability and first passes out of the zone, has a lot to do with it. Those two give some quality minutes to Michel Therrien’s team and are no liabilities when on the ice against the opposition’s top lines, especially on the road when Therrien doesn’t have the last change.
6- It is early but so far, Alex Galchenyuk is proving that he’s ready to take on the role of centreman in the NHL. His great vision of the ice allows him to dish out great passes to his teammates and opponents must respect his great shot. Perhaps what’s most surprising so far is that Galchenyuk is leading the team in faceoffs’ percentage with a 53.1% success rate.
7- Much has been said lately about Alexander Semin and his slow start to the season, in spite of the team’s success… perhaps even too much? After showing some great chemistry with Galchenyuk and Lars Eller in pre-season, Semin has yet to find his rhythm in regular season but for the longest time, he was playing relatively well defensively. What got him in trouble in the game against the Maple Leafs is the two giveaways resulting in two games, forcing Therrien to bench him. The next step for him might be the pressbox if he can’t find his Mojo soon.
8- The duo of Alexander Semin and Lars Eller are, in fact, not helping young centreman Galchenyuk so far this season. Eller has three goals but considering that two of them came in the same game, it means that he’s only scored one in the other eight games, the same total as Semin. The third line of David Desharnais, Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise has been more productive offensively and Galchenyuk is certainly not to blame for that.
9- Recognizing that while the team is winning, his second line needs to improve, GM Marc Bergevin is certainly noticing that Galchenyuk needs some legitimate offensive wingers and there is no doubt that he’s keeping an eye out around the league to address that need if or when it presents itself, with some teams up to a rough start this season. He is however in the driver seat and he certainly doesn’t have to give the farm to accomplish what he is set to do when need be.
10- According to the Habs salary cap table prepared by our friends at CapFriendly.com, the Canadiens are in good shape with over $3.6 million of cap space available, placing them 19th in the NHL in money committed to the salary cap. This gives Bergevin a lot of flexibility in the event of acquiring a higher end player now or later in the season.
11- A big part of the Canadiens’ success so far has been their Special Teams. The penalty kill has been good in recent years and only the New York Islanders have a better PK percentage than the Habs, who are running at a success rate of 90.9 per cent. Perhaps the biggest improvement is on the powerplay, where the team has scored eight goals with a success rate of 22.9 per cent, good for 8th so far in the NHL.
12- An interesting comment from Lars Eller on Michel Therrien recently. When asked what the biggest difference was from last year to this year, he said that the players are all buying into the system this season. Read into it what you must, but it certainly leaves a lot to interpretation doesn’t it?
As the Habs have won nine in a row to start the season (the record being 10), statistics will tell you that the current winning streak will be ending soon, likely during this Canadian road trip. As the team is playing in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg before returning home to face the Senators at the Bell Centre on Tuesday, November 3rd, all of those teams would just love to be the ones ending it to the top team in the country. Go Habs Go!!!