Kukla's Korner

The Upper Canadien

The Habs thus far, and looking forward

Well, no one can say that the Montreal Canadiens didn't start 2015 off on the right foot. Back-to-back wins over the New Jersey Devils and the Pittsburgh Penguins solidified Montreal in the top spot in the East, led by the goaltending of Carey Price in both games. The Habs have won five straight, and while many of the numbers may not be in their favour (they continue to have trouble in the first, last night aside), the Habs are playing a solid game at the halfway mark of the season. Other teams may be outchancing and outshooting them, but the quality of the shots, and what Carey Price does with the rebounds, suggests the Canadiens will be fine. They won't finish the season with 114 points, or even 110 (I don't think), but barring catastrophic injuries, they'll be in the top five in the East and on solid ground come playoff time.

A few big changes of late for the Habs: 1) Nathan Beaulieu - Beaulieu is starting to get significant minutes, and his play dictates that he'll get more. He's a smooth first pass out of the zone, his defensive coverage is sound, and he's got speed. Beaulieu has earned Michel Therrien's trust, and he's here to stay. 2) Alex Galchenyuk - Galchenyuk has been lights out since taking over as the first-line centre, and along with Brendan Gallagher and Max Pacioretty, they form a very threatening offensive line. The Habs have won 9 of 10 games (by my quick count this morning) since Galchenyuk made the move permanently, and each player has been more than a point a game since. He may still have some growing pains, and he's occasionally out of position defensively, but Galchenyuk is a gamebreaker, and perhaps the best home-grown natural offensive talent the Canadiens have had since Stephane Richer. 3) Carey Price - Price has upped his game from solid to superstar level, allowing just 12 goals in his last 9 starts. Those are hart-trophy level numbers. If he can keep it up, the Canadiens can battle Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay for the conference title. Jiri Sekac - This kid is the real deal. Not only is he producing at a clip of about .5 pts/game, keeping in mind the first few games he played very few minutes (and zero quality), but he's a complete player. He backchecks, hits, and skates hard. He's also got a fantastic backhand. Sekac is growing into a very solid NHLer.

Not really a change, but worth noting: PK Subban is playing the best defensive hockey of his career, and on pace for a career high in points. Montreal clearly has a perennial Norris contender locked up for a very long time. 

The Habs have a few days off to rest and reflect on a very successful roadtrip. Marc Bergevin is likely still working to acquire one more impact forward, as another top-six winger or centre would certainly go towards solidifying the Habs as a genuine Cup contender. That said, while the media may still be gun shy, going with the "it's all Price" story, it's not. So I'll go out on a limb: the Habs are real contenders, and they'll continue to be for the rest of the year. Marc Bergevin has built one heck of a team. 

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About The Upper Canadien

The Upper Canadien is your one stop shop for all things Montreal Canadiens. Since the summer of 2010, I've been providing Habs related news, notes, and most importantly, opinions. As a blogger, I don't believe it's my job to report the news, it's my privilege to comment on it. You may disagree with what I suggest. In fact, you most likely will. But that's the great part about blogging: it spurs opinion, comment and engages all involved. I've really enjoyed all the debate and commentary from readers thus far and I encourage everyone to respond with ideas on lineups, trades, logos, sweaters, mascots, whatever. The Upper Canadien is a conversation for all hockey fanatics.

I've come to Kukla's Korner with four years of campus radio and three years of sportswriting from my time at Mount Allison University on Canada's East coast. Not only do I not have any professional journalistic training, after five years in the corporate world, I've spent much of the past two years completing an MBA. Business by day, hockey by night, I'm a Canadiens fan through and through. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I do writing.

Questions or comments? theuppercanadien@kuklaskorner.com