Sheldon Souray and Craig Rivet each set new personal highs in points in 2005-06.
MONTREAL -- When the NHL emerged from the lockout in time for the 2005-06 season, the overhaul of the league's rulebook was aimed at boosting offense. Montreal's blue-liners got the message loud and clear.
Thanks to their smooth transition to the league's new reality, the Canadiens led the league along with Calgary, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Vancouver with five defensemen posting 20 or more points this season: Andrei Markov (46), Sheldon Souray (39), Craig Rivet (34), Francis Bouillon (22) and Mathieu Dandenault (20).
It marked just the fourth time in the Canadiens' 96-year franchise history that five or more D-men reached the 20-point mark, the last time dating back to 1982-83.
The team record of six was set only one season earlier in 1981-82, when Larry Robinson (59), Rod Langway (39), Brian Engblom (33), Robert Picard (28), Gaston Gingras (24), and Guy Lapointe (20) all topped 20 points.
Montreal's blue line explosion of 2005-06 was headlined by Andrei Markov, who continued to be the Canadiens' defensive general with 46 points in 67 games. That production aside, Markov's value was made most evident when he actually wasn't in the lineup, as the Canadiens only mustered a 3-11-1 record when the 27-year-old Russian was sidelined due to injury this season.
Markov's longtime defensive partner Craig Rivet also broke out in a big way, setting personal highs in both assists (27) and points (34). In addition, the rugged rearguard continued his remarkable string of resiliency, emerging as one of only two Habs to have played in all 82 games, a feat No. 52 has now accomplished in three of the past four seasons.
Larry Robinson and Gaston Gingras were among the six Canadiens defenseman who all managed to crack the 20-point mark in 1981-82.
Sheldon Souray followed up his first-ever NHL All-Star Game selection in 2003-04 by establishing new career marks in both assists (27) and points (39). After a slow start to the season that saw him amass five goals and 20 points in 49 games, Souray almost doubled his output following the Olympic break with seven goals and 19 points in 26 games.
Francis Bouillon's trademark perseverance and drive paid off in 2005-06, with the rock-solid blue-liner notching career-highs in goals, assists and points. Despite standing only 5-foot-8, the almost 200-pounder made quite an impact by cracking the NHL's top 20 with 154 hits on the season.
The Canadiens' newest face on the blue line, Mathieu Dandenault, made a seamless transition to the Eastern Conference after spending the first nine years of his career with the Detroit Red Wings. Like Souray, Dandenault kicked it up a notch after the Olympic break with four goals and nine points in 26 games on the heels of scoring only one goal and 11 points over his first 56 games with the Canadiens. With a plus-8 rating, the three-time Stanley Cup winner trailed only Markov who posted a team-high plus-13.
In today's NHL, the best defense is a good offense. With Year 1 of the league's new era offering proof positive of that, look for Markov and Co. to be ready to open fire in 2006-07.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com.