by PuckStopsHere on 03/06/13 at 01:07 AM ET
The Montreal Canadiens lead the East Conference with 32 points. They have a 14-9 record with four regulation tie points. This is a big step forward from last year's team who finished in last place in the East Conference.
Montreal is not your typical last place team. They only allowed 14 more goals than they scored in the season. Most last place teams do worse than that. However even if we accept that they should have been better than a last place finisher last season, they are no first place team either. This is partly shown by their large number of regulation tie points. Toronto has the same win/loss record as Montreal without any regulation tie points and they sit fifth in the East Conference.
Montreal has improved offensively by about half a goal since last season. They have also improved their goals against by a fifth of a goal per game. This makes the better part of a goal a game improvement from last year.
Probably the biggest reason for the offensive improvement is a healthy Andrei Markov, who has been very good at moving the puck up the ice into offensive situations. He joins Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Tomas Plekanec offensively. Rookies Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher have also contributed. Raphael Diaz is also a pleasant surprise from defence.
There has been a marginal improvement in their defence with Alexei Emelin and Diaz taking steps forward and Markov healthy. They join PK Subban who is already a solid player.
Can Montreal last as a top team in the East Conference? Probably not. They do not have the talent to stay that high in the standings for long but they may be able to grab a playoff berth. Given their strong start to the season, the playoffs look quite likely. They can slip back into the pack as their luck begins to run out and still remain in the top eight in the east.
Montreal has been a surprise team so far this year. They are greatly improved from a very poor result last year. They are neither as good as their record shows this year nor as bad as their record look last year. I think they might be somewhere in the middle and given a fast start that should put them in the playoffs.
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