The Canadiens are about to hit the midway point of a successful first half of the 2006-07 campaign.
Regardless of the recent Sunbelt tailspin - their first consecutive losses in regulation - many are surprised that the Habs have the third best record in the eastern conference.
With 3 games to play before sitting on the 41 game mark, the Canadiens have a record of 22-11-5 for 49 points, their best start since the 1978-79 season.
Along with the rising Atlanta Thrashers, Montreal is considered to be one of the leagues more unexpected success stories so far. One national publication of repute had them placing 13th this season. So much for professional insight!
At the season's outset, I boldly predicted that they would be exactly where they are presently and I am not surprised that they are.
I've had a bunch of folk ask me of late, "Well, what did you know?"
I haven't been asked it so much since I drafted Teemu Selanne in my 1992 hockey pool, but that had everything to do with a touch of dumb luck!
What I knew about this edition of the Habs was that the team hadn't turned over much from the previous year in which they began to build something. There seemed to be depth at all positions and deep into the organization. Rookie coach Guy Carbonneau, a person of profound experience in the league, was sure to form a winning group from the assembled team.
Once Koivu's eye was tested and proved to be fine in training camp, the upcoming season looked to be a promising one. I had no doubts about Huet whatsoever, never finding him to be the flash in the pan type. His personality and control of his emotions went hand and hand with his solid goaltending.
For Huet, this season has simply been a continuation of last seasons second half, in which he led the league in save percentage, and still does.
The performance of the special teams units has been better than expected. While most who know Carbonneau associate him with defensive systems, it has long been forgotten that he had a 182 point season in his final year of junior hockey with the Shawinigan Cataracts.
The success of the penalty killing unit has been in keeping with the men working the bench. Several players have contributed to the units success on any given night, most notably Chris Higgins early on. Considering that a goalie is often a teams best penalty killer, the results are not all that surprising.
On the power play, two main factors have helped make it the league's best. Sheldon Souray's powerful and accurate point shots have given defenders headaches all season. Keying on Souray has become a "damned if you, damned if you don't" proposition. For teams to accentuate on nulifying Souray's effectiveness, it exposes the other Habs assets of Andrei Markov and Alex Kovalev's puck movement skills. For all the criticism levied at Kovalev, his passing skills are second to none. Giving either he or Markov an extra second to set up, and you have the result we are speaking of.
Teams know this. Defending against it is a different matter