MONTREAL - What do you get when you hire a three-time Selke Trophy winner as your new head coach? In Montreal, it earns you the NHL's top penalty killing unit, and six of a possible eight points to start the season.
Playing shorthanded never bothered Guy Carbonneau as a player, and that hasn't changed since he's moved behind the Canadiens' bench. One of the top defensive forwards to ever play the game, Carbo blocked his share of shots and frustrated countless opponents over the course of his 19-year NHL career.
His players have done exactly that so far this season. Having allowed only one goal in 24 shorthanded opportunities, the Canadiens now boast the league's top unit at a 95.8 per cent clip. After allowing a first period power-play goal against the Maple Leafs last Saturday, the Carbonneau's crew has since neutralized 18 straight man advantages.
According to Steve Begin, the key to a successful penalty kill is no secret.
"The recipe for success, and you'll hear me say it time and again, is communication," said Begin. "We're communicating really well right now, especially with our defenseman which is crucial.
"We're also doing a good job of adapting to all situations regardless of what teams we're facing," added Begin. "Analyzing video of opponents' tendencies and then incorporating that into our practices has also helped. Not being on the same page is what gets teams into trouble, but right now we're all on the same page."
Another key component to the Canadiens PK dominance this season is Christopher Higgins, who was quick to credit Selke Trophy winners Carbonneau, Doug Jarvis and of course Bob Gainey for Montreal's stingy start to the year.
"They know a lot about penalty killing that's for sure," said Higgins of his GM and coaching staff which total a combined eight Selke Trophies between them. "Spending as much time as we do with those guys, you're definitely going to pick up something as long as you're paying attention."
Higgins has been all ears, with the 23-year-old having already notched a league-leading two shorthanded goals this season. Higgins was also tops on the Habs with three shorthanded markers as a rookie in 2005-06.
"So far so good," said Higgins. "It's not something we're necessarily working on more at practice or anything. We're just talking out there and doing the little things which are all adding up."
His linemate and penalty killing partner couldn't agree more.
"Our PK is really doing the job right now," said captain Saku Koivu about a penalty killing unit that slammed the door on all five Senators power-plays on Saturday night. "There's a lot of offensive talent in that lineup, but we held our ground. Hopefully we can keep it going."
With the Calgary Flames limping into the Bell Centre on Tuesday night as the dubious owners of the league's worst power-play at three percent with only one goal in 33 attempts, the Canadiens might have to get used to their view from the top of the NHL's penalty killing mountain.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com