The 2015-16 season is still fairly new, but one team is already clearly the best in the NHL: The Montreal Canadiens. With Saturday’s 5-3 win over Toronto, the Habs are 9-0-0. They broke the ’75-’76 Sabres’ record for most regulation wins to start the season and a win Tuesday night in Vancouver would tie Montreal with the ’93-’94 Leafs, who began that season with 10 straight wins (including one OT win). A historic start, to be sure.
Montreal was supposed to be good, but this good? I’m guessing only diehard Habs fans expected them to start this hot out of the gate. Certainly, they’ve got the best goalie in hockey right now, Carey Price, who is coming off a dominant season in which he won both the Vezina and Hart trophies for best goalie and MVP, respectively. They’ve got a defense corps led by the spectacular PK Subban and Andrei Markov, and speedy forwards including Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, Tomas Plekanec and Alex Galchenyuk.
The Canadiens have made great strides this season with their penalty kill and with puck possession, two factors that make them tough to beat when you take everything else into consideration. Even on Saturday, when the Leafs managed to pepper Price with 52 shots and score three goals, the Habs were able to generate enough offense to ice the victory.
Getting off to a fast start in the NHL is nice, but not essential. It’s a long season, and it’s more important that you finish strong in April. Indeed, the ’75-’76 Sabres ended up finishing second in the Adams Division with 105 points and were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs by the Islanders. The ’93-’94 Leafs finished second in the Central and made it to the third round of the postseason before Vancouver took them out in five games. So there’s no guarantee that winning 10 straight games to start the season will bring you anything other than a good jump on the competition.
Conversely, the Anaheim Ducks, who were the pick of many (including myself and Stephen Mapes of this very publication) to win the Cup, are off to an absolutely horrendous 1-5-1 start that has coach Bruce Boudreau rumored to be on the chopping block. Will a team that good miss the playoffs? It’s certainly possible, but I don’t expect it to happen.
As for Montreal, I expect them to be among the NHL’s best throughout the season, but certainly there will be a drop-off at some point, at least for a little while. Teams like Tampa Bay, the Rangers, Islanders, Capitals and Penguins will be tough opponents to get by to come out of the conference, but Montreal has to be considered the beast of the East right now.