Coming into this week, everyone was talking about the Habs' biggest test of the young season; taking on the visiting Vancouver Canucks, and then two nights later going up against the Big Bad Bruins in their rink.
Its Friday, the test is now complete-and it won't take a professor to grade this paper. The Habs passed with flying colors.
As I already wrote about the Vancouver game, I'll focus on last night's tilt in Boston for this post. Heading into the year, the Bruins were being predicted by everyone to win the Northeast Division with relative ease, some even going as far as placing them first in the East and categorizing the Bruins as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. No doubt it is too early in the season to say the Bruins are overrated;they made some good offseason acquisitions, notably power foward Nathan Horton, have some good young players, are are going to have a "good problem" when David Krejci and Marc Savard return from injury. Clearly the Bruins have the depth and firepower to compete consistently. Last night, however, they ran into an obstacle. An obstacle that most considered to be nothing but a speed bump on the road for the Bruins.
That obstacle was Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens.
The Habs came into Boston confident off of the win against the Canucks, and it showed early on. The powerplay struck for the second consecutive game when P.K Subban put a knuckler past Tukka Rask. Even P.K admitted that he fanned on it, but a goal is a goal. Boston replied late in the first when Zdeno Chara unleashed a vicious wrist shot over Price's right shoulder, but that was Price's only letdown during yet another solid (sometimes ranging to spectacular) performance. The guy is FEELING IT. He's square to the puck, technically sound, and making the big saves when his teammates need to be bailed out. Price is doing exactly what he needs to do to succeed, and its shows in the numbers: a 9-5-1 record, .923 save percentage and a 2.19 GAA, to go along with his two shutouts. He's on pace to post career highs in every statistical category, which will mean good things for the Habs as the season goes along. As long as he stays consistent, Price will be just fine.
As for Price's teammates, they weren't to shabby themselves. Subban sparked the faltering powerplay, Markov is regaining his all-star form, and Cammalleri and Gionta are back where they belong: on the scoresheet. And although Scott Gomez's goal wasn't one for the ages, it was a timely one that sucked all the air out the Bruins and their fans, and will hopefully re-invigorate the sometimes invisible Gomez; he needed that one is a bad way. Props to him for making his 800th career game a memorable one.
Its only November, but Jacques Martin's troops are off to a great start. Winners in 10 of their first 16 games, the Habs are winning at a 0.625 clip, impressive numbers for a team that was supposed to be old, lacking talent, and questionable in goal. They're buying into the system because it's working, and once everyone settles into their roles and the big guns start producing consistently, the Habs will begin to truly come into their own. They've shown they can skate with the top teams (let's not forgot the Pittsburgh victory early in the year), are confident in themselves and their style of play, and are riding a hot goalie who has finally arrived. We won't get over-excited too early, as often happens in this great city of ours, but if things continue the way they have, we could be in for quite a ride this season.
In other Habs news, eighth defenseman Ryan O'Byrne was shipped out of town yesterday, a move that most probably saw coming during the offseason when the Habs went out and acquired Alex Picard. The move takes almost 950,000$ off the books, giving Pierre Gauthier a little wiggle room in terms of cap space moving forward. In return the Habs acquire 18-year old center prospect Michaël Bournival, a 6'0, 190 pds. Shawinigan native who is currently playing for his hometown Cataractes in the QMJHL. He's off to a solid start this year, posting 10 goals and 14 assists for 24 points in 17 games. He was representing the QMJHL in the Subway Super Series, a series essentially putting three Canadian junior all-star teams (one QMJHL team, one OHL team, and one WHL team) up against Russia's top junior players. He is also being looked at as a potential invite to Canada's World Junior tryout camp, so the immediate future looks bright for this young Quebec native.
Bournival was a third round pick (71st overall) in this year's draft, and if we analyze the trade closer we can pretty easily figure out what went on behind the scenes here. Montreal did not have a third round pick in this year's draft, and Gauthier most likely had Bournival on his radar going back to last June, and probably tried to move up in the draft but didn't find a suitable deal, so Bournival went to the Avalanche. Fast forward to today, and Colorado's defense is decimated by injuries, notably to regulars Adam Foote and Kyle Quincey. Gauthier, realising this, probably picked up the phone, called up Greg Sherman, GM of the Avs, and offered O'Byrne for the young Bournival. In the end, this deal could work out in Montreal's favor. O'Byrne has never established himself as a reliable NHL defenseman, so unless he blossoms into one in Colorado, he will be but a Band-Aid solution for the Avs until the injured players heal up. On the flip side, Montreal not only gets a young, solid (not to mention French-Canadian) prospect that joins a solid stable of young forwards in the organization, but the move also clear up almost a million in cap space for Hamilton call-ups or a potential move later on in the year.
The Habs welcome Carolina at the Bell Center on Saturday, coming off an 8-1 beating at the hands of the Flyers. Keep an eye on Jeff Skinner, the 'Canes 18-year old phenom who is currently leading all rookies in scoring-the guy can play. If the Habs play like they did this week against stronger opponents in Vancouver and Boston, Montreal comes out of this one victorious, winners of three straight, and heros for a few more days.