MONTREAL – There’s something special brewing in the Canadiens dressing room.
While standing at a podium in Las Vegas clutching his quartet of major NHL awards in June, Carey Price was asked how he could possibly build on his Vezina, Hart, Ted Lindsay and Jennings-worthy season. His answer was that he would do it brick by brick, the same way he always has.
It’s a blueprint the 2015-16 Canadiens are taking to heart.
“We see one game at a time,” warned head coach Michel Therrien, whose team blanked the Western Conference-leading St. Louis Blues 3-0 on Tuesday night. “It’s like when I’m driving my car. I’m not constantly looking in the mirror to know what’s going on in the back. I’m watching ahead. For me, the most important thing was tonight and now our focus is on our game in Buffalo on Friday.”
Stringing together the team’s best start in franchise history, the Habs are the only undefeated team remaining in the NHL. They sit first in the league in goals-against per game, having allowed just seven goals in seven starts, and they own the NHL’s best penalty kill unit, clicking at a rate of 91.7 percent. They haven’t allowed a single first period goal all season and they’ve given up just one in the third while posting the team’s longest win streak since an eight-game stretch in 2006.
“From Day 1 at training camp, everyone has bought into our system,” explained Torrey Mitchell, who banged home a rebound against the Blues to score his second goal of the season. “We’re rolling four lines and it feels like everyone is a big part of it. Everyone has their role. It’s nice to see that early on. Hopefully we just keep building on it.”
Four players – Andrei Markov, P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty, and Tomas Plekanec – are ranked in the Top 4 in the NHL in plus/minus differential, and Price has already posted a pair of shutouts along with a stellar .966 save percentage and 1.00 goals-against average. The team’s best players have been their best players throughout the start of the season, but it’s the Canadiens’ deep roster that has proven to be the secret to Montreal’s success early on.
“Having Carey and having the depth that we have when we have a slow start like that makes us realize that you don’t have to wait for your next shift to get out there,” stressed Pacioretty, who scored his fifth goal of the campaign to send the Habs into the first intermission up 1-0 despite being outshot 17-10 in the opening frame. “Any line can put pucks deep, make it hard on their defense and really create some momentum. I can’t even pinpoint which line started the whole thing because everyone started making the right decisions. Everyone pitched in.”
While the captain is happy to see the Canadiens sitting atop the standings when he arrives at the rink every morning, he’s more focused on the way his team has been racking up wins than he is on the number of wins themselves.
“I’m worrying about the process. I know people say that but it really is genuine with our group,” said Pacioretty, who has seven points in seven games this season. “We didn’t like our first period, but there are a lot of positives to take out of this and that’s our in game adjustment. That’s the commitment to getting pucks deep and playing a hard-nosed game. It’s really hard to hold back after whistles at times and make sure you have the right discipline to do what’s best for the team. I think everybody did a great job of doing the right things.”
Buying into the system, rolling six defense and all four lines, relying on elite goaltending and getting timely offense from big game players have helped the Habs kick off 2015-16 on the right foot. According to the team’s newest assistant captain, a little bit of luck hasn’t hurt, either.
“I’ve been wearing the same tie. I can’t stop now,” admitted Brendan Gallagher with a laugh. “It’s just a normal tie, but it’s getting hard to find enough shirt combos to go with it. I don’t know what I’ll do, but I guess I’ll keep it going.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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