Capitals vs Canadiens: The Forgotten Men

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Game 3: Washington 1 Montreal 4 (Verizon Center)

By Rick Stephens, All Habs Hockey Magazine

“True leaders do not consciously seek the limelight. They demonstrate an indefatigable energy and an unrelenting commitment towards the goal. In doing so, quietly unleash the strengths of those around them.” ― Unknown

MONTREAL, QC. — Since the disappointing end to the Canadiens 2011-12 campaign and leading up to the new season, there has been no shortage of story lines surrounding the Montreal Canadiens.

What impact will the new regime have on the present and the future of the Habs?

The front office makeover was more than a retooling, it was a purge. From President through scouts, and coaching positions in Montreal and Hamilton, the change was dramatic. And with the appointments came some larger than life personalities — the head coach for one — to saturate the headlines.

What about the kids? Do the Canadiens have a superstar in the making?

Since being chosen 3rd overall in the most recent NHL Entry Draft, the spotlight has been on Alex Galchenyuk. And whether it was tearing up the OHL, winning a gold at the World Junior Championships or turning heads at the Habs training camp, the 18-year-old has shone brightly. He has earned a shot to remain with the club throughout the season.

Can the Canadiens discard their image of being an easy team to play against?

There has been a lot of talk about GM Mark Bergevin‘s off-season additions. The words grit, sandpaper and yes, even truculence have been overused to describe Brandon Prust, Colby Armstrong and Francis Bouillon. Early indications are that the current version of the Habs will not be pushed around.

When will P.K. Subban sign?

This story has the feel of both a soap opera and an evangelical experience all wrapped into one. Some claim Subban is a cancer to the team, yet others have elevated him to a diety, threatening to riot in the streets if he is not signed. Sadly, discussion about his tweets overshadow talk about an exciting road victory for the team.

The coverage of the issues highlighted above has been all-consuming resulting in less focus on a number of team leaders of the Canadiens. Prior to the season these players were flying under the radar, in a relative sense,  taking a back seat to contract negotiations, draft picks, enforcers and new brass. They are the forgotten men.

Carey Price. Andrei Markov. Brian Gionta. Tomas Plekanec. Josh Gorges.

A funny thing happened when the season began, the quiet leaders emerged and have propelled the Habs to a better-than-expected start to the season.

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Carey Price has been lights-out. Price has silenced some of the critics of his pre-season preparation by posting a 2-1 record with a goals against of 1.34 and a save percentage of .953. He has given up just one even-strength goal in three starts.

Andrei Markov has reminded fans and media alike that he is one of the elite defenseman in the NHL. Markov has four points in three games with three goals coming on the power-play — two of his goals were game winners. The afore-mentioned Subban had five power-play goals in 81 games last season.

Brian Gionta missed 51 games due to injury last season contributing only eight goals. Gionta has scored twice in three games this season, adding a helper for three points. The Canadiens captain is off to a great start and could be the offensive spark needed for a team that was predicted to struggle with goal production.

Tomas Plekanec has received unfair criticism in the past for a perceived lack of production — nevermind that night in and night out he drew the straw to face the opposition’s most potent offensive line. This season Plekanec has had the burden of his penalty-killing duties reduced somewhat and received an upgrade on the wings. The result is three points in three games with two goals as he centers the de facto number one line of the Habs.

Josh Gorges received more press in the off-season regarding his lockout comments than discussion about his on-ice potential. After three games Gorges finds himself in a familiar position, top-5 in the league in blocked shots but is also the proud owner of a power-play goal. It’s apparent that Gorges has also stepped-up his physical play.

Against Washington on Thursday night, Price was near perfect making 30 saves while Markov, Gionta, Plekanec and Gorges each contributed a goal towards the Canadiens executing a textbook road victory. It was the first win for the Habs in seven matches against the Capitals.

It’s early in the new season, there’s a long way to go. In Montreal, you’ll find no shortage of bold headlines, brash radio personalities and internet insiders. But look beyond the loud and sensational, and there you will likely find the real story.

All Habs game stars

1. Carey Price
2. Andrei Markov
3. Tomas Plekanec

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The Canadiens will next play a rare Sunday game at the Bell Centre as the host the New Jersey Devils. Click the link to find the best selection of Montreal Canadiens tickets.

(Featured image: AP Photo/Nick Wass)