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Early Season Storyline: Montréal Canadiens

The Montréal Canadiens are off to a blazing start in the Scotia North Division, going 6-1-2 through their first 9 games of the season. Their 14 points have them 1 point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have played one more game. The Canadiens lone regulation loss came at the hands of Calgary on Saturday night in what was, essentially, a 1-0 game before factoring in the late empty-netter for the Flames.

I have seen many power rankings and much discussion about where teams, and specifically the Habs, rank in the NHL. Given the unique circumstances of this season, with teams only facing divisional opponents, I don’t find full power rankings to be as effective. It is extremely difficult to compare two teams who don’t play each other or even face a single common opponent. I plan to keep my analysis of teams during the regular season within the terms of the division in which they play. As the playoffs approach, comparing teams from around the league will be more appropriate, knowing inter-divisional opponents will eventually cross paths.

After losing in a shootout to Toronto on opening night, Montréal has won 6 of their last 8 games and have looked dominant throughout most of the stretch. They are leading the North in goals scored per game at 4.33, comfortably ahead of the Winnipeg Jets who have the second highest mark in the division at 3.56. The Leafs, who lead the division in the standings, have scored 10 fewer goals than Montréal despite having played 2 more games. The Canadiens’ offense is much more explosive than I expected. The additions of Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson are paying great dividends already, and Nick Suzuki looks to be a significant part of the solution to the Habs’ problems at center.

While the Montréal offense has been great, the entire Scotia North looks to favor offense over defense. There have been plenty of high-scoring contests within this division so far. What has made the Canadiens stand out is their combination of offense and defense. Montréal holds the second-best goals against average in the division at 2.56, just behind Calgary at 2.50. Calgary, who looks strong defensively, does not have the same offensive firepower that the Canadiens have shown, as reflected by the Flames’ 2.88 goals scored per game.

Being first in goals scored per game and second in goals allowed per game shows that, at this point in the season, Montréal looks to be the most complete team in the North division. Things can certainly change with over 40 games remaining, but the Canadiens’ early success deserves recognition, as they may just be the team to beat North of the border.

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