The mid-term grades for this shortened NHL season are in and the Montreal Canadiens have passed with flying colors, excelling at virtually every aspect of their game. The Habs have parlayed enthusiasm, discipline, hard work and a balanced team effort into a record which leads the Eastern Conference.
With the exception of goaltender Carey Price, this is a Montreal team with few big names. Third year defenseman P.K. Subban is an emerging superstar who has intensified his game as his playing time has gradually increased during the season. The return of Andrei Markov from injury has helped to solidify a deep defensive unit which has had few off nights.
Although the defense has been consistent, it has been the play of the Habs front line which has been the difference maker. The addition of free agent forward Brandon Prust has been a game changer. Up until his shoulder injury a few days ago, Prust is arguably the Canadiens most valuable player this season. His aggressive hard-nosed play on every shift has set the tone for the entire team.
While Prust has been doing the heavy physical lifting, rookies Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk have sparked the Habs with their enthusiasm. Their youthful exuberance has been contagious and has permeated the team with a positive never say die attitude when trailing on the scoreboard. The youngsters are a big reason for the resiliency displayed by the Habs this season.
From a scoring standpoint, Tomas Plekanic, Max Pacioretty and Brian Gionta have picked up the scoring slack throughout the season. Although none are having a blockbuster year, their scoring by committee has been consistent and have managed to avoid multiple prolonged simultaneous slumps. The addition of Michael Ryder has also given the team an instant boost in the scoring department.
Obviously, this is not your grandfather’s Montreal Canadiens, who were stacked from top to bottom with marquee talent. However, they are a team who has managed to win using grit and determination, instead of overwhelming talent.
Of course, the Canadiens turnaround from last season would probably not have been possible if not for new head coach Michel Therrien and General Manager Eric Bergevin implanting a new system and attitude into the team. Although coaches and GMs are the first to be blamed when things go south, they are not often given the leadership credit they deserve when a team does well.
Coming off a trying season in 2011-12, Therrien has quickly instilled a work ethic and discipline the club was sorely lacking. The management should also be commended for showing faith in the young players and utilizing them properly to assemble a winning chemistry.
The Canadiens hope to continue their winning ways in the second half of the season and into the playoffs by going up against the Ottawa Senators this evening at the Bell Centre.