Two games, two Habs wins.
The season couldn't start any better, right?
First of all, a Canadiens team that was supposed to tighten up defensively and stop allowing teams to pepper their net with shots is still doing exactly that, getting outshot 35-17 and 46-27 Thursday night in the T-dot.
Only Carey Price allowed the Habs to come away with four points in those games, but even if he has a great bounceback year, he can't keep up this pace for ever. He's only allowed four goals on 81 shots, and that's a great sign for Habs fans because if there's one player who might allow the Habs to weather the storm without Andrei Markov, it's certainly Price. But he's going to need some help, and fast, because the shooters out west might not be quite as inefficient.
Markov's absence will be felt even more now that Ryan O'Byrne suffered an apparent sprain in the first period and did not return. Corus Sports is reporting that O'Byrne will not make the trip to Calgary for Tuesday's game against the Flames, meaning someone will have to be called up from Hamilton because there's only five healthy defencemen remaining on the roster.
The timing is absolutely horrible for O'Byrne. He was playing with confidence and, more importantly, he had the confidence of his coach. When Jacques Martin was the GM in Florida, he had his sights set on acquiring O'Byrne from the Canadiens, presumably during discussions regarding Olli Jokinen. Now that he's got him, Martin liked what he was seeing from the 6-foot-5 monster who had the added advantage of being the only right-handed shot on the team. It's not a stretch to say that this was the first time of his career in Montreal that O'Byrne had the full confidence of his coach, and now he's injured.
The fact O'Byrne is not on his way to Calgary suggests he'll be out for the next three games, because you would have to think he would take the flight if there was a chance he could play in either Vancouver or Edmonton.
So someone will be called up from the Bulldogs, and you'd have to assume it will be Yannick Weber, who could potentially slide into Hamrlik's spot on the left point for the first power play unit to unleash his right-handed one-timers. I thought Weber proved that he could hold his own, or at least get by defensively in last year's playoffs. Now he should get a chance to prove it.
In this opening game without Markov in the lineup we caught a glimpse of how the Habs will struggle offensively without him. On at least two occasions, defencemen replacing him on the left point of the power had golden scoring opportunities but missed the net, and I think everyone knows Markov would have buried both of them. It's no coincidence the Habs went 0-for-6 on the power play tonight, but perhaps Weber could help in that department.
Still, the Habs responded to the challenge of playing the final 40 minutes with only five defencemen, and Jaroslav Spacek especially showed he's willing to shoulder an extra load in Markov's absence by logging a team-high 26+ minutes, though that number wouldn't be nearly that high had O'Byrne finished the game. Still, with over 5:21 on the power play and 3:38 on the penalty kill, Spacek showed a versatility reminiscent of the dearly departed Markov, and considering the circumstances he could become Bob Gainey's smartest signing of the offseason.
Finally, one negative and a big positive from the forwards, aside from the obvious mention of Brian Gionta playing well enough to make all those Alex Kovalev fans say, "Wow, you mean forwards backcheck?"
On the negative side of the ledger, Max Pacioretty is having a disappointing start to the season, but I'm convinced he'll come around eventually. Still, I would have thought the spot he briefly held on the top line with Scott Gomez and Gionta would have inspired him to a solid start, but it appears to have had the opposite effect.
But we'll end it with a positive, and that's Tomas Plekanec. As much pressure as there is on Price to show the second half of last season was an anomaly, Plekanec has just as much to prove and his first two games have shown a player that is engaged and ready to take on a big role on this team. Good for him, because though it was probably the source of much of his misery last year, Plekanec is one of the hardest workers on the team. Last year that hard work was ineffiecient and without focus. But through two games, Plekanec has been very effective and if that continues it bodes very well for the Habs.