They beat the Colorado Avalanche back-to-back, as the prospect pool showed that the Habs have a stable of reliable depth ready and waiting.
After a minor stumble against the Washington Capitals, the Canadiens marched into the home of one of the NHL's best teams and earned an impressive victory.
Then, last night, the Canadiens encountered an obstacle. Tied 3-3 and halfway through the third period, the Habs found themselves in a goal-line scrum in the Senators' end. Chris Neil grabbed Max Pacioretty. P.K. Subban, outstanding defenceman and poor fighter, got into it with Mark Borowiecki. While no one seemed to emerge any worse for wear, the spectre of a devastating injury to one of the Habs best skaters seeded a worrying thought in the minds of many - this could have been worse. With no George Parros or Douglas Murray, have the Canadiens just seen the first instance of an issue that could plague them this season?
Tale of the Tape
Know Your Enemy
To answer that question, one need only look at the primary stakeholders in last night's fracas.
When playing close games last year, Chris Neil and Mark Borowiecki averaged 0.68 and 0.7 points/60 minutes. These numbers place them squarely in the company of Matt Kassian and Eric Gryba on the Senators. Across the league, those numbers compete with such offensive dynamos as Barret Jackman and Scott Hannan. Pacioretty's 39 goals last year are only two fewer than Neil's production for the last five seasons combined.
Of course, goals aren't the only way to measure a player's impact, but unfortunately, looking elsewhere doesn't do much to save face for Neil. On last year's above possession average iteration of the Senators, Neil came in at an abysmal 46.6% fenwick close, making him easily his team's worst regular player in that department. Borowiecki's sample size is minute, but he too was a net drag on his team's performance.
These players aren't contributors, and they illustrate what made the Habs' off-season so strong. The departures of George Parros, Douglas Murray, and Ryan White haven't created a problem for this year's Habs. They've solved one.
Last Time Out
If the Canadiens do have a problem, it's one faced by a every team in the league: maximizing their talent.
The Habs have the horses to carry the puck into the offensive zone on the powerplay, but their inability to do that last night may have them cost the game. An overtime penalty kill can be an impossible task, but the Senators made last night's game winner look effortless. Icing clear liabilities like Francis Bouillon, especially amidst the alternatives avaiable, cost the Habs a number of games last year.
The Canadiens have the potential to be a Stanley Cup contender this season, but they aren't a team without problems. Thankfully, the absence of a fighter on their roster isn't one of them.