We’re six games into the season and for the first time in what seems like forever, there is genuine excitement surrounding the Montreal Canadiens. The young guns are looking promising, the vets are carrying their load and, I can’t even believe I’m writing this; the Habs are a fun team to watch. They’ve been fast, they’ve thrown the body, and of course, they’ve been winning hockey games. While both early season success’ as well as failures should always be taken with a grain of salt, with the Habs currently sitting at 4th overall in the league along with the league’s highest points percentage, there seems to be real consensus that the teams hot start should not be summed up simply as a fluke.
The Habs are currently first in the league in both shots on net and goals, which are both stats that took me a second to process. As a lifelong fan, I can’t remember the last time I thought “wow, the Habs sure can score goals”. Now, do I think they’ll remain at the top in those stats? I wouldn’t bet on it. However, the fact that they are scoring at the rate that they have been (4.83 goals per game) is a real testament to the depth of the team. As it stands, only 3 members of the team find themselves with a donut in the goal column. They’re playing the game as a unit, which was the plan all along. The team’s success itself banks on all lines contributing in their own way, which is a style that plays right into Claude Julien’s hands. A coach who has a history of success with teams built this way. To be fair, building a roster around high end elite talent is something you should always strive for, however, those kinds of players are also some of the hardest things to get your hands on in this league and if you can’t, building a team that you can rely on from top to bottom is not a bad second option. Hockey is a team sport after all.
On a more concerning note, the lack of discipline the team has shown from game one has been nerve racking to say the least. You can make the argument that some of the calls called against them were questionable at best, but there is no denying that more than a fair share of them were just lazy/avoidable plays. Hopefully they can clean this part of their game up. If there is any good that can be taken from the ridiculous number of penalties they have been taking, it’s how effective the penalty killing has been. Although a penalty kill that ranks 15th in the league (78.6%) may seem mediocre to many, when you consider that they rank 3rd overall in penalty minutes against, it puts the ranking into perspective a bit. It could be a lot worse to say the least. Granted, it’s never ideal to play with fire the way the Habs have been to open the season. Hockey is not a sport that forgives a lack of discipline very often. But it is nice to see early on that the PK units can bail out the team when called upon.
This also leads to the (somewhat) legitimate argument that had the Habs not gotten themselves into penalty trouble during their two losses, there is a real possibility (emphasis on possibilty) that they would’ve found themselves undefeated at this point of the season. Granted, I understand that penalties are a part of hockey and that it’s just the way the game goes sometimes. It’s always easy to say “imagine if” or “if they did this instead” but I just thought that it was nonetheless worth pointing out. They outplayed both their opponents during their two losses, it was a lack of discipline that really did them in in both games. Again, I AM NOT saying it as a certainty, don’t come after me. I am very rarely right.
The powerplay has been rather noteworthy as well. Clicking at just over 26%, that may only rank them 12th in the entire league, but it’s not the stat line itself that’s caught my eye, rather, it’s the product on the ice. Both units seem to have taken a big shake up. It seems as if the days of only feeding Weber one timers, hoping the puck will get through the crowded bodies in front of the net are gone. They’re moving the puck much more than they used to. This could be thanks to a change of personnel, the coaches adjusting system, or maybe both. Regardless, there’s no denying the contrast between this years powerplays and those of years past.
If I were an outsider looking in, the only real comment I could make is the numbers I see when I look up Carey Prices stats, to which I’d point out that numbers don’t always tell the entire story. I am in no way trying to say that stats don’t matter, but the reality is he’s played well. Not out of this world, but solid enough. Of his four starts, I’d say he looked rough in one of them. Other than that, he’s looked solid and has even, dare I say, mirrored vintage Price at certain points by keeping his team in games when things started to slightly fall apart. So yes, his numbers may not be stellar now, but it’s important to keep in mind that that’s not underheard of for goalies at the start of a season. A goalie can play well, still let in 5, and because the season just started, there’s no other games to dilute his stats. The numbers eventually flatten out. I strongly expect those numbers to get better as the season progresses.
All that being said, if being a lifelong Habs fan has taught me anything it’s to never get my hopes up, not even in the slightest. Which is exactly why I remain cautiously optimistic for the time being. They’ve looked good and while I don’t think that the teams hot start should be considered anything less than what it is, a good team playing good hockey, I also acknowledge that seasons are long and that a lot can change between now and the end of the season. Just ask Buffalo Sabres fans how they feel about hot starts. Hockey becomes better the later in the season you go, and it’s going to be interesting to watch how this team progresses as the season goes.