MONTREAL – Ask Michel Therrien’s troops why they’re winning right now, and they’ll tell you there are a few key things involved – in addition to remarkable goaltending, of course.
Going in search of their seventh straight victory on Tuesday night against the St. Louis Blues, the CH has proven to be far too much for its opponents early on this season, outscoring them by a 20-7 margin through six games. Not only do they boast the best goal differential in the league, but they’re also the only squad that has yet to suffer a loss with just under two weeks of regular season play already in the books.
“Everything’s rolling for us. We’re playing well, and we’ve got four good lines. Our defensemen are doing a great job. It’s very encouraging, for sure. The further we get into the season, the more confident we are. And, we’re winning, too,” offered David Desharnais, who sits tied for second on the team with five points on the year alongside Tomas Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk. “We’ve had a very good start to the season. Nobody was expecting a 6-0-0 start at the beginning of the year. I think the potential was there, though. We all believed we could do it.”
Believing in themselves is one thing. Delivering is another. Fortunately, the Canadiens appear to be doing everything right on the ice these days, translating that heightened sense of confidence into unparalleled success.
“Fifty percent of the game is about Xs and Os. The other 50 percent is about the ability of guys to execute things the way they’re supposed to on the ice. That’s what we’re doing right now. When we make mistakes, there are always guys there to help us recover from it. Nobody is pointing fingers. We’re all in this together,” shared P.K. Subban, who admits the Canadiens’ significant improvement between the blue lines has a lot to do with their ability to give the opposition trouble. “We’re better in the neutral zone. That’s where a lot of turnovers take place. That’s where we’re winning the battles. You have to force opposing teams to make mistakes in the neutral zone to control the puck.”
Like Desharnais, though, the former Norris Trophy winner says being able to count on every single soldier all game long cannot be underestimated. There aren’t any passengers right now, and everyone is playing their respective roles to perfection.
“We’ve got a very balanced lineup. When you look at ice time, with the exception of defensemen, you see that everyone is playing [around the same time] and contributing. That’s very important. The coaches have to be happy to be able to send anyone out there without worrying about a bad matchup,” stressed Subban, who has put up four assists and a plus-7 differential in the early stages of his sixth full-time NHL campaign. “There are some nights where we’re just rolling one line after another. That’s a way to keep your legs fresh. It will help everyone in the long run.”
Subban certainly has a point when it comes to balance up front. The difference in ice time per game at even-strength between the Canadiens’ most-utilized forward – Tomas Plekanec – and least-utilized forward – Torrey Mitchell – is just 4:05. That’s the smallest difference in the NHL among players who’ve taken part in at least three games this season. Compare that with the way the Oilers are going about their business in Edmonton, where Taylor Hall (17:36) and Luke Gazdic (5:45) clearly share different responsibilities with a drastic difference in playing time at 11:51.
In short, spreading the workload around has the Canadiens battling even harder in the latter stages of games, where they’re often decided and valuable points are up for grabs.
“We always want to put pressure on in the third period. It’s not something new this year, but we’re definitely doing better work in that department. What makes that possible is come the third period, our legs are still fresh. That’s a result of the fact that we have four lines all sharing the load and getting the job done,” explained Brendan Gallagher, who scored his first goal of the season in the Canadiens’ last outing – a 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night. “There’s a little bit more gas left in the tank when we get to the third period.”
Therrien expanded upon that same point following practice on Monday.
“We’re capable of having the stability we need. It’s all about the success we’re having. I sense a real chemistry among our forwards and our defensemen. We’re going to have some tough times, but when you see that type of chemistry within each group, it makes things a lot easier,” shared Therrien, who couldn’t be prouder of the way his players have come out of the gate to begin the 2015-16 campaign. “There’s good chemistry on each line. The fact that we’re able to roll four lines and six defensemen also gives a chance for the guys to have more energy.”
And, what does the Habs’ All-World netminder think is behind the Canadiens’ historic run?
“We added some excellent parts to what we already had. The chemistry is great, and we’re really having fun at practice. That’s had an impact on everybody’s morale,” concluded Price, referencing the summer additions of Tomas Fleischmann and Alexander Semin, and pick-ups like Jeff Petry, Torrey Mitchell, Brian Flynn and Devante Smith-Pelly last season. “The guys have confidence. But, it’s still a double-edged sword. You have to be confident without losing focus on what we’re trying to do.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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