Five reasons Montreal Canadiens are off to record-setting start

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Five reasons Montreal Canadiens are off to record-setting start
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  • Carey Price
    Carey Price
    Canadian ice hockey goaltender

The Montreal Canadiens set on NHL record on Saturday night, breaking the 1975-76 Buffalo Sabres’ mark for most wins to start the season. 

The 9-0-0 Habs are the best team in hockey right now, even if their 5-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t leave the team satisfied. "It's nice, but we feel like our game the past few games has maybe been slipping a little bit and we've got to get back on track with dominating the possession game," said captain Max Pacioretty.

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That said, nine wins in nine games are nine wins in nine games. So how have the Canadiens rocketed out to his historic start? Here are five factors behind the streak:

1. Carey Price, Carey Price and Carey Price

Those NHL Awards he won last season should have ended the debate; but just in case there are any lollygaggers, his seven starts this season have shown why Price is the best goalie in the world.

Price has two shutouts during the streak, and hadn’t allowed more than two goals until Saturday night’s battle with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He can be excused: The Habs gave up 52 shots and he made 49 saves, becoming the first Canadiens goalie to have to make 49 saves on home ice in 25 seasons.

The Canadiens had a 1.33 GAA, the only team in the NHL under 2.00.

Suffice it to say, he’s come a long way from getting booed in the preseason five years ago…

2. Establishing The Lead

It’s a pretty easy equation: When you have the best goalie in the world, you want to give him a lead. So the Canadiens have scored the game’s first goal in eight of the nine wins, and they’ve led after the first period in seven of those eight. Last season, the Habs were 15-3-3 when leading after the first period, so they’re jumping on teams earlier thanks to the offensive spark they’ve had.

3. Patches, Plek and Gally 

The Canadiens have averaged 3.89 goals per game, second to the Capitals this season. 

The best line in the NHL through October? Their top line. At even strength, Max Pacioretty had four goals and an assist; Tomas Plekanec has two goals and three assists; and Brendan Gallagher had one goal and four assists. Gallagher had three goals on the power play, which Pacioretty had a goal and two assists and Plekanec has two helpers.

All three lead the Canadiens in possession, with Pacioretty’s Corsi percentage at 57.1.

It’s not the first time Pacioretty has started strong, although seven goals is a hell of a start. This line has been the pacesetter for the Habs, who have been a different offensive team than they’ve been under Michel Therrien.

4. The PK

No, the other PK – the penalty kill, which has a 90.9 percent success rate thus far this season despite Montreal having been shorthanded 33 times, the third-most in the NHL after nine games. Full marks to Jeff Petry, their top player in shorthanded ice time, whose been outstanding at the start of the season.

5. The System Fits The Personnel

As Pierre LeBrun noted here, the chip-and-chase Habs have become possession machines, and the roster finally seems built for it. Alex Semin and Tomas Fleischmann don’t want to play dump and retrieve; Semin’s addition to Alex Galchenyuk’s line has improved the young center’s possession metrics. P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov want to rush the puck over the blue line rather than play the hard around.

Andrew Berkshire noted after last season how the Canadiens’ zone entries could make or break their offense:

In games where the Habs have averaged more controlled entries than dump-ins they have produced a CF% of 51.3%; compared to 46.8% otherwise. In terms of puck-possession events, the Habs have engaged in 3.7% more events in the offensive-zone when their controlled entry to dump-in ratio is above 1, while also engaging in 32.2% of their overall events with possession in the offensive-zone; compared to 28.7% otherwise.

It should be noted that the Habs allow a few more scoring chances when they have controlled zone entries.

But in response to that: See No. 1.