Many believed the Montreal Canadiens would be a "bubble team" at this point in the season -- a squad that missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2011-12 but possibly could contend for a spot this season.
Instead, heading into their game Tuesday against the Washington Capitals, the Canadiens found themselves sitting atop the Northeast Division and three points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the lead in the Eastern Conference.
Certainly, it's helped that standout defenseman Andrei Markov has been able to stay on the ice. Markov, 34, has 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) in 38 games. Combine that with the Norris Trophy-type season P.K. Subban is enjoying (he's tied for the team lead with 32 points in 32 games) and the goaltending Carey Price has provided, and the Canadiens (25-8-5) have had a chance to win on a nightly basis.
At the end of the day, though, the bulk of credit has to go to coach Michel Therrien. That's why, at the three-quarter mark of the schedule, Therrien has earned NHL.com's nod for the Jack Adams Trophy.
The 49-year-old was hired this summer by new general manager Marc Bergevin and has been the biggest reason for the Canadiens' residency atop the Northeast. After Montreal missed the playoffs a season ago, it has lost eight games in regulation this season (four at home, four on the road) with Therrien behind the bench. The Canadiens also boast a plus-29 scoring differential, third-best in the NHL behind only Pittsburgh and the Chicago Blackhawks.
Indeed, Therrien has done a remarkable job thus far with the Canadiens, who are all but assured of returning to the postseason. The fashion in which they are returning could have Therrien accepting the Jack Adams Award this summer.
Joel Quenneville, Chicago Blackhawks -- What Quenneville's Blackhawks have accomplished this season is nothing short of spectacular. They opened the season by notching at least a point in 24 consecutive games, collecting 43 of a possible 46 along the way. They haven't slowed all that much, either; Chicago sits atop the Western Conference, three points ahead of the Anaheim Ducks.
Paul MacLean, Ottawa Senators -- There's at least a chance the Senators don't even qualify for the postseason; they enter their game Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning in sixth place in the East. Ottawa -- losers of four straight -- is four points ahead of the ninth-place New Jersey Devils and 6-10-3 on the road. Nonetheless, the fact MacLean has kept his club in the mix without world-class players such as goaltender Craig Anderson, center Jason Spezza and reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson for extended periods of time speaks volumes about his coaching performance this season.