Don’t look now, but the Montreal Canadiens are first in the NHL.
After beating the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday, the Canadiens are now 5-0-1, and the only team without a regulation loss.
They’re also the top team on TSN’s weekly power rankings.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) October 24, 2016
Some fans may be hesitant to get excited about a hot start after the Habs started a franchise-best 9-0-0 last season, but failed to make the playoffs.
It’s okay to get excited though, because things should be different this time around.
Injuries derailed the Canadiens’ playoff hopes last season, with Carey Price, Brendan Gallagher, and P.K. Subban all missing large chunks of the season.
The Habs shouldn’t have nearly as many injuries this season, but even if they do, they are much more equipped to deal with them compared to last year. They have more depth up front, a stable defensive core, and not one, but two good goaltenders.
With all that said, let’s look at three reasons why the Habs are off to such a strong start.
The Canadiens are used to getting good goaltending from Carey Price, but what they aren’t used to is a capable back-up goalie.
When Price started the season with the flu, Al Montoya proved he was a capable backup, allowing only four goals in three games and sporting an amazing .960 SV% en route to a 2-0-1 start. Obviously that save percentage isn’t sustainable over the course of a whole season, but it’s a nice early indication that the Canadiens aren’t completely doomed without Price.
Price has been no slouch himself, rocking a .939 SV% to go along with a perfect 3-0-0 record. Unsurprisingly, the Habs lead the league in both fewest goals against (9) and highest 5-on-5 save percentage (.960), to start the season.
It helps to score the first goal, and the Canadiens have done so in every game they’ve won this season.
The only game the Canadiens didn’t score first was in their shootout loss to Ottawa, where they got down 2-0 and managed to come back to force overtime.
Getting the first goal is always important, but even more so when you have the best goaltending in the league. When playing from behind, a team is more likely to trade chances, and give up higher quality scoring chances on their own net as a result. Price is going to stop all the routine stuff, so getting the lead and playing good defense is going to be a winning recipe for the Habs.
New players contributing
The Canadiens made a number of acquisitions this past offseason, and so far those moves are paying off.
Shea Weber has been a stud on the blueline both defensively and offensively, and actually leads the team with seven points in six games.
Alex Radulov was one of the most controversial signings at the time due to his past history in the league, but so far it’s been all positive. He’s third in team scoring with five points, and by all accounts looks like a much different player than his last NHL stint.
Artturi Lehkonen is another new addition stepping up. The 2013 2nd-round pick has fit in nicely on the Habs second line, and is having a good start to his rookie season with two goals and an assist through six games. His 19 shots is only one behind Max Pacioretty for team lead.
Was talking with Alex Galchenyuk Friday. He said this is the best edition of the Canadiens he's been a part of. This is his fifth season.
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) October 22, 2016
The Canadiens will look to keep things rolling when they take on the New York Islanders on Wednesday. Since it’s the start of a back-to-back, Montoya will get the start, saving Price for the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.