3 Early-Season Positives for the Montreal Canadiens

Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price
Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price – (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)

If you look hard enough, there’s a lot not to like about the 2016-17 edition of the Montreal Canadiens.

Despite having returned to practicing, Carey Price is on the mend from the flu and has yet to play a single game entering Tuesday night’s action. And, oh, yeah, they’ve been outshot in each of their first three games by a total of 25. So, pretty much the same old.

Were it not for new-Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw being unable to escape the spotlight, which continues to shine on him for all the wrong reasons, fans would be in serious distress trying to reconcile what their eyes are telling them with the page their calendar is currently flipped to.

The truth is that the team’s problems extend way beyond the moves general manager Marc Bergevin made last summer that threw many for a loop. Nevertheless, it’s only three games in. There’s no reason to panic. Here are three reasons why:

Five Out of Six Points

At the end of the day, even if they were secured playing the likes of the injury-depleted Buffalo Sabres and Pierre Dorion-managed Ottawa Senators, three out of four points aren’t bad. Especially when you get them playing on the road. Add to that a shutout victory over the Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the Habs’ home opener? Nothing wrong with that.

There’s no denying Montreal looked bad against the Senators and were lucky to enjoy a however-brief third-period lead, let alone even make it to overtime. However, in spite of also being outshot by seven against the Sabres two nights earlier, the Habs actually enjoyed an edge in terms of shot attempts (score-adjusted Corsi) in that first game.

The moral victory might ring hollow, especially to those who don’t believe in advanced stats. However, consider shot attempts as an extension of shots, which are always quickly jumped to as a metric used to evaluate a given team’s performance relative to the opposition.

If you’re going to refer to one stat to help formulate a conclusion, why not substitute it out for a better indicator of success?

To further illustrate the point, you could decide to look at a team’s win total to gauge how good its season is going. Or you could instead look at their number of points, which also takes into account a team’s number of loser points, which are… unfortunately nicknamed for this specific example. The point here is they’re all stats. Some just tell more of a story.

As for the Ottawa game? Best to look the other way altogether. That was a train wreck.

Al Montoya Has Been Good

Montreal Canadiens goalie Al Montoya
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Al Montoya – (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)Al Montoya Has Been Stellar

Furthermore, those five out of six points? They were earned with Montreal’s backup goalie, Al Montoya, in net. That fact adds a little context to the situation at hand.

Granted, there’s only so much Montoya can do outside of the crease, and the Habs still played relatively badly in front of him. Considering the roster turnover from last season though, maybe they should be given a bit of a break and time to gel properly (even if many other teams are facing much the same issue).

While Montoya has developed a reputation for year-over-year inconsistency, the general consensus has been that he’s played very well and should be an upgrade over Mike Condon in net. Of course, you could probably point to Condon starting off last season on fire as proof that nothing is guaranteed in that regard. But… but… c’mon. Just whose side are you on?

Michel Therrien’s Line Blender is on Low

Michel Therrien
Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Oh, head coach Michel Therrien was up to his old tricks against Ottawa. For starters, he promoted the likes of grinder Paul Byron and demoted top-six forward Artturi Lehkonen to the fourth line, despite the latter being one of the few on the team getting any kind of traction from a possession standpoint.

In a game in which the Habs were trailing 2-0, it really made no sense to give a guy who was getting it done offensively less opportunities to score, unless you subscribe to the old school of thought that rookies need to work their way up the lineup.

Fans can certainly be forgiven for rolling their eyes, thinking something along the lines of, “Here we go again. Next thing you know David Desharnais will be taking shifts with Max Pacioretty and they’ll reacquire Dale Weise just to get the band back together.”

The fact is, as much as you may disagree with Therrien’s methods, you have to pick your battles and this is one you should let slide for a few reasons. For starters, Lehkonen ended up scoring his first NHL goal while on that fourth line. Secondly, the Habs went from not being able to hit the broad side of a barn in that game to scoring a respectable three in regulation.

Finally, Lehkonen was back on that second for Tuesday’s home opener against the Penguins.

So, even though Therrien could have easily decided Lehkonen should stay on the fourth line, he seems to have thought rationally about it all and put him back where he belongs. Sure, this is potentially temporary and Lehkonen could be a bad shift away from the press box. For now though, fans should calm down. Even if the team’s thirteenth forward Brian Flynn is seemingly drawing in at sparkplug Daniel Carr’s expense for whatever reason.

The bottom line is there will be (oh so many) opportunities where it will be hard to justify Therrien’s decisions from here on out. Saturday night, when he mixed he things up to try and get the offense going (which is kind of what happened as a result), is not one of them.

Pace yourself in other words. It’s a long season with 79 games left.