It’s almost a quarter of the way through the NHL season now, and the Montreal Canadiens are still holding on to first place in the league.
It’s been a refreshing opening quarter for the Habs this year after Carey Price’s injury derailed the team’s previous season. But this year has been more than just Price.
The Canadiens have had players from all positions and roles on the team step up. That’s what you need to be the best hockey team in the best hockey league on the planet.
On a team that has so many things working for them right now, it’s hard to narrow down to just five key players, but there are a few standouts right now.
Here, in no particular order, are five key contributors for the Canadiens so far this season.
As the old saying goes, you often need your best player on the ice to be your goaltender, and that has once again rung true for the Habs this season.
Price is healthy and looking as good as ever. He’s yet to lose in regulation this season, posting a 11-0-1 record with a 1.58 GAA and .950 SV%, as well as two shutouts.
Price hasn’t lost a regulation game since October 29th of last year. If that doesn’t give a team confidence in their goaltender, nothing will.
He’s the MVP for the Habs and arguably for the entire league right now as well.
Goaltending can only get you so far though, and the reason for the team’s success extends farther than the Canadiens crease.
When the Canadiens announced they had signed Alex Radulov to a contract this past offseason, it was met with differing reactions. Some were optimistic, while others wanted nothing to do with the former disgruntled KHL star after seeing him in his last NHL stint.
Almost 25% through the season it’s now safe to say that Radulov has been a great fit for the Canadiens, and one of the keys to the team’s success thus far.
The 30-year-old Russian leads the team in assists (13) and is second in points with 16 in 17 games played. His +8 rating also ranks second among forwards, and his modest shooting percentage of 10.7% suggests his numbers aren’t inflated from puck luck.
After starting the season on the second line, Radulov is now a fixture on the team’s top line and power play unit, and should remain there all season if he continues to produce like this.
The other controversial offseason decision the Canadiens made was the historic PK Subban-Shea Weber trade. Like Radulov, Weber has been a key contributor for the Habs this season.
Weber leads all NHL defencemen in goals (7), points (15), plus/minus (16), and game-winning goals (3). Most expected his defensive ability to be superior to Subban’s risky style of play, but this level of offensive production has been a major asset for the Habs.
His powerful and accurate slap shot has been especially useful on the power play, where Weber has six goals for the Canadiens, who rank sixth in the NHL with the man-advantage.
The Canadiens have gotten full value from their offseason acquisitions, and they’ve also been getting it from 2012 third-overall-pick Alex Galchenyuk.
The 22-year-old centre has improved his production in each of his four seasons in the NHL, but has still never cracked 60 points. He looks poised to do that and more this season.
Galchenyuk currently leads the Canadiens in points with 19 in as many games, and also has a share of the team lead in goals with seven.
Alex Galchenyuk now has 19 points this season playing 15:51 a game.
Patrick Kane has 19 points this season playing 22:15 a game.
— Matt Casavant (@Mcaz) November 20, 2016
One area of concern may be his faceoffs, where Galchenyuk is winning just 39.5% of his draws. But with a +12 rating that leads all forwards on the team, faceoff losses haven’t been hurting him too much.
To be a top team in the NHL, your top players can only carry you so much. It’s imperative for role players and depth guys to step up, especially when injuries occur.
Last season it was Dale Weise and this year, Paul Byron is coming up big for the Habs.
The 27-year-old forward is tied for the team lead with seven goals (two game winners), and lately has been rewarded with his strong play with a spot on the first line.
His 12 points right now is already over halfway to his career high of 21 points with Calgary in 2013-14.
Byron’s hot streak certainly won’t last forever – his shooting percentage of 28% is not even close to sustainable, but players of his calibre aren’t expected to sustain those kinds of numbers.
Even with his numbers due to take a hit soon, he should be a good bet to pass his career high of 11 goals set last season.