Seventeen games into this hastily-arranged NHL season, the Montreal Canadiens find themselves hovering around the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Will the Canadiens be able to sustain their run for the remaining 31 games and cruise into the playoffs as one of the top seed favorites?
In addition to a schedule which has been front-loaded with home dates, the Habs have managed to take advantage of relatively good health thus far. Goalie Carey Price and rookie forward Brendan Gallagher have missed a few games, but Montreal still managed to continue winning without them in the lineup. Defenseman P.K. Subban missing a few early games due to a contract dispute did not hamper the team either.
The formula to the Canadiens success is to play a defensive game which stresses discipline and limits mistakes. They are a team which does not give up many odd-man rushes to the opponent, and prefers to keep the neutral zone under lock and key. Although this type of play does not exactly bring fans to the edge of their seats, the Habs coaching staff will taking boring wins over exciting losses any day.
Head coach Michel Therrien is handling the team like an overprotective father who is afraid to cut the strings. This is hardly a scathing criticism of Therrien, who realizes the Habs style of play is limited by their lack of big scorers and big bodies. Therrien has done a good job of having the team buy into a more technical and positional form of play, which helps compensate for the team’s weaknesses.
Although this type of play has helped the players with more moderate skill sets, it may not assist players such as P.K. Subban and Erik Cole in reaching their potential. Subban has failed to turn up the RPMs, and has curbed his long up ice rushes. As for Cole – he has looked lost out there all season. Is this really a system which both these players can really flourish in? Can the Habs continue to win without their top scorers contributing on a consistent basis?
Since general manager Eric Bergevin is unlikely to make any major moves prior to an early April trade deadline, it appears the Canadiens will be going with what has brought them to the top of the standings. Barring any major injuries, the Habs will probably stick with the current game plan, and continue to try to squeeze out victories by playing tight and mostly mistake-free hockey.