24 Down, 24 To go
|Alex Galchenyuk (left) and Brendan Gallagher are tied for third |
among rookie scoring with 13 points each.
With only 24 games remaining in their season, the Habs currently sit atop the Eastern Conference with a 15-5-4 record.
Predictions are always sketchy and even more so when it comes to this specific squad as they headed into the 2013 campaign. With Markov's knee always in question, a coach who didn't work the first time and a team who failed to produce any offense outside of their top line it was hard to imagine they would find any more success than in 2011-12.
However, how could it get worse than 15th? The days of Pierre Gauthier and Jacques Martin are over, the entire organization had been re-structured and character players such as Colby Armstrong, Francis Bouillon and Brandon Prust were added to the roster. How could they not improve?
Why not start with Brandon Prust? Prust is coming off of a career high three point game in Thursday night's 4-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. Prust has shown his willingness to stand up for his teammates by dropping the gloves seven times in the first half of the season. Along with his toughness, Prust has added nine points (4G-5A) and a very impressive +13 rating, good for 11th in the league.
I'm not sure why I'm putting Carey Price's success as a surprise. I guess it's because most of the blame for the team's failure is usually put on him and this could be the season that he put's an end to that. In 19 games played Price has posted a 12-4-3 record with a 2.33 GAA, .912 sv% and two SO's.
His 12 wins put him first in that category and has had only two outings in which he played below expectations. He followed those performance up with a 41 save win in Carolina Thursday night including 19 saves in the second frame when Carolina came at Montreal with everything they had.
Rene Bourque was enjoying a bounce back season notching five goals and adding five helpers and playing with determination in the 17 games leading up to a concussion he was believed to have suffered after an altercation with Toronto's Colton Orr in February's 6-0 pounding at the hands of the Maple Leafs.
Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher have been as equally productive as they've been entertaining. With 13 points each, they are tied for third in rookie scoring. Gallagher's two game winning goals are tied for first and he is alone atop rookie skaters with a +10 rating.
Galchenyuk's +7 puts him in third and each of them has done this despite having top line minutes. Neither player ranks among the top 50 rookies when it comes to ice time.
And finally, Michel Therrien has them playing like a team. It's been a long time since the Habs have bought into their coach's system and it's showing in the standings. Therrien has them playing more aggressively and each night his players are agressive on the puck at both ends of the ice and are winning more battles along the boards than they are losing.
Erik Cole got off to one of his usual slow starts and was subsequently shipped to Dallas for former Hab Michael Ryder. Cole's production was one thing but the lockout left a sour taste in his mouth and after making comments about possibly retiring at seasons end, Marc Bergevin decided it was better to go ahead without him.
Ryder has yet to score in his second stint as a Hab but has earned four assists. The beauty of the deal is in the cap. Cole has two more years on his deal at $4.5 million while Ryder is on the last year of his contract which pays him $3.5 million.
If Ryder can pick up his game Bergevin may decide to re-sign him, if not the Montreal GM has given himself some much needed cap space for a season that will see the cap limit decrease by roughly seven million dollars. Did I mention Bergevin managed to squeeze a 3rd round pick out of Dallas?
Colby Armstrong and Travis Moen have both been less than impressive. While I won't be as hard on Armstrong as most, I can't say he's been the player I was hoping he would be when he signed as a free agent. Armstrong is far from sniper material but he's going to have to start cashing in on some of the chances he's been getting. His grit factor also seems to have disappeared from his game.
Speaking of lost grit, what has happened to Moen? His play is less physical, his intimidation factor is non existant and his four points in 23 games speaks volumes about his offensive contribution, or lack thereof.
David Desharnais almost made the list of disappointments after starting slow following a stellar 2011-12 campaign. However, in his last 11 games he has recorded ten points and a +5 rating indicating that he may have found his groove.
Peter Budaj is doing exactly what he needs to by posting a 3-1-1 record and giving the team a chance to win when he's called upon.
The Canadiens special teams have been above average as they currently sit in ninth place with the extra man posting a 19.8% success rate. Their rating of 82.1% while down a man puts them at 14th.
The Team's defensive play in their own zone has left a lot to be desired and too often goals are given up due to breakdowns in their own end. Many question why Markov is still getting top pairng minutes at his age and why it took an injury to Raphael Diaz for P.K. Subban to start getting top four ice time.
Subban has 15 points in 18 games and is tied for first among defenseman with six goals. It's not quite clear why he spent his first 14 games hovering around 20 minutes a game.
while there is nothing wrong with taking a minute to enjoy the fact that the Canadiens reacherd the halfway mark of the season atop the Eastern Conference, it's only fair to be realistic as we look ahead.
It's not impossible for the Habs to keep the top spot but the Boston Bruins have been absolutely amazing and still hols games in hand on the Canadiens.
The good guys keep finding ways to win without the likes of Rene Bourque and Raphael Diaz but there is a long way to go and they will have to find a way to continue rolling four lines successfully for another 24 games if they expect to finish on top heading into May.
Sean is a freelance writer currently contributing to HabsAddict.com. He is also a regular blogger and frequent panelist on the Habs post game show at MontrealHockeyTalk.com
You can follow Sean on Twitter.
(Photo by Paul Chiasson, Canadian Press)
(Photo by Paul Chiasson, Canadian Press)