These aren’t your 2011-12 Canadiens.
Not even close.
Last season, they managed just one win in their first eight games. This year, the Canadiens have surprised with a 6-2-0 start, a run that includes wins over the New Jersey Devils and Ottawa Senators.
They’re getting strong goaltending from Carey Price and giving him the offensive support he has so rarely enjoyed over the course of his Montreal career thus far. In five of their wins, the Canadiens have lit the lamp at least four times, averaging 4.4 goals per game on those nights.
A rejuvenated power play – responsible for 11 goals – has helped fuel an impressive and balanced attack; the team has gotten tallies from 12 different players, seven of whom have scored at least twice.
Tomas Plekanec is finally enjoying stability on his wings and is leading the way with four goals. Joining him at the top is Andrei Markov, looking every bit the steady presence the Canadiens were accustomed to on the back end before his well-documented knee surgeries. All of his goals have come on the power play and three have been game-winners, in consecutive games – a franchise first by a defenceman.
With a revamped front office led by rookie general manager Marc Bergevin and a new coaching staff under the guidance of Michel Therrien, it’s clear from watching this year’s edition that they care, they believe.
“You never know what to expect when you have a new coach, new system and everything,” Josh Gorges said following the Canadiens’ win over the Senators on Sunday afternoon. “We have a group here that wants to get it done. They want to pay the price, win the battles.”
Against Ottawa, Montreal iced a complete and healthy lineup for the first time in several years. Max Pacioretty’s return pushed Lars Eller down to fourth line centre against the Senators – a day after putting up a goal and two assists alongside David Desharnais and Erik Cole.
“We have a lot of good players on this team and the coach will have some tough decisions,” Eller said after the game.
Therrien essentially had two options for Eller – fourth line pivot or body in the press box. Plekanec’s line is rolling as is the trio of Brandon Prust with rookies Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher. Given the Dane’s better play of late, it’s of little surprise that the coach opted for Eller over Ryan White.
It’s a testament to the depth the club boasts, something they haven’t had much of in recent years. And unlike some other teams, the Canadiens have made it through the first two weeks relatively unscathed on the injury front.
The team has benefitted from a home-heavy schedule out of the gate and is making the most of it. With five wins in six Bell Centre games, the club is nearly a third of the way to last season’s home ice victories.
In all, everything is clicking.
No one knows how smooth the road ahead will be, especially in such a highly intense and compressed schedule. But as much as last season was a disaster, the current campaign is certainly shaping up to be a dandy.