Entering that game on Saturday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Montreal Canadiens not only had the best record in the NHL, but were also the only team in the league that did not yet suffer a regulation loss. If that early season storyline sounds like a repeat, it’s probably because you already saw it play out last year when the Canadiens won nine straight games to open the season on their way to a 19-4-3 start.
It would prove to be the high point of the season.
What followed was one of the worst in-season collapses in NHL history as the Canadiens became the first team in league history to miss the playoffs after collecting at least 41 points in their first 26 games. It was in large part due to the injury to starting goaltender Carey Price (among other injuries) and it led to some earth-shattering moves over the summer.
This fast start in 2016-17 should have a better ending for the Canadiens. Let’s take a quick look at a few reasons why it should have a better result.
Carey Price is healthy
Price might be the most impactful player in the league when it comes to whether or not his team wins and loses, and his absence from the lineup for the last five months of the 2015-16 season was absolutely devastating to the Canadiens’ chances. Forget the P.K. Subban for Shea Weber swap. Forget any of the other offseason roster moves. Getting a healthy Price back is the single most game-changing thing that happened to the Canadiens over the past few months. They also seem to have a better Plan B in Al Montoya in the event that Price isn’t in the lineup. He already played extremely well at the start of the season when Price was sidelined with the flu, and if they had received that level of backup goaltending a year ago the entire offseason may have been entirely different.
Alex Galchenyuk is turning into a star
The No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Galchenyuk has shown steady improvement across the board every year that he has been in the league. With 30 goals a year ago he was probably one of the few bright spots in the Canadiens’ lineup during what would go on to be a lost season.
He looks even better so far in 2016-17. At age 22 he is just now starting to enter the phase of his career where scorers have their most productive years in the NHL. If he can take another step forward this season it would be a total game-changer for the Canadiens’ offense.
Alexander Radulov is just what they needed
In an offseason where the additions of Weber and Andrew Shaw stole all of the headlines because of the way they were going to bring more toughness and snarl to the Canadiens’ lineup, it was the addition of Radulov on a one-year contract that might prove to be the most important addition, simply because he is the exact type of player the Canadiens needed. One that could finish around the net and score some goals. Aside from taking a few too many penalties in the early part of the season, Radulov has been everything the Canadiens could have hoped for offensively so far this season.
The Canadiens aren’t going to keep winning games at their current pace because, well, nobody does, and they do have their flaws. There is still reason to question if Michel Therrien is the right coach long-term when it comes to winning a championship because of the style of play, and they are still a team winning based on percentages (thanks to the Price-Montoya duo, they have a .960 5-on-5 save percentage that is just silly) instead of dominant possession.
Once some of those percentages drop a bit, they will cool off in the standings.
But even when that inevitably does happen, don’t expect things to go anywhere near as poorly as they did a year ago because of the three players mentioned above.
Everything that happens in Montreal (and Nashville) this season will be a referendum on the Subban-for-Weber swap, but when it comes to the Canadiens the most important offseason acquisitions they made were getting their most important player back healthy, and getting a much-needed top-six winger for next to nothing.