MONTREAL – Forty one down, 41 to go. Bob Gainey likes where his young team is headed, but the Canadiens’ GM also knows that his team is in for quite a battle once again in a crowded Eastern Conference playoff race.
While the Habs are three points shy of their output after 41 games last season, Gainey now feels he has a more balanced team. Tighter in their zone and stronger 5-on-5, this year’s squad is much improved, according to Gainey.
“I like our team’s balance now, which is something I mentioned needed working on at the end of last season,” said Gainey. “Our blue line is more physical than ever and more responsible in our own end, and our overall play defensively is much better.
“We’ve scored more goals than we’ve allowed, we’re playing smarter, taking less penalties and playing a more disciplined style,” added Gainey. “We are also coming together as a group, our coaching staff has us headed in the right direction, and all of the players are on board, which is so important.”
Gainey did underline a few points his young team has to work on.
“I’d like us to spend a little less time in our own zone,” said Gainey. “If we could also improve our penalty kill by one, two or three percent that would give us a real hand down the stretch.”
Another point Gainey believes should be high on his team’s to-do list is improving their work in the face-off circle.
“We have to be better in that area,” said Gainey of the Canadiens, who sit 27th in the league with a team face-off winning percentage of 48.1%. “We have to do a better job especially on important face-offs. It’s an aspect of the game that could prove to be crucial as we look to compete with the top teams in the league. Those are the teams that make a living at finding an opponent’s weakness and exploiting it. It’s up to our centermen to see this as an opportunity to make an important difference for our team and prove their worth.”
One player proving something this season is a rejuvenated Alex Kovalev, who leads the team in scoring and has already matched his output of a year ago with 18 goals so far this season. Gainey isn’t shocked to see the veteran winger returning to his old dominant self in 2007-08.
“I’m more happy for him than surprised,” explained Gainey. “He’s come into this season with a much more positive attitude and it has nothing do with anything we may have discussed a few months back. He made it clear to me that he had a new approach and attitude this season and he deserves all the credit for his performance so far.”Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com