Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Top of the Heap

Here we are, 91 blog posts into the season and the Montreal Canadiens are in sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference. It's been a year of ups and downs (mostly ups). You've probably heard by now that it's the first time the Habs have been in first at this point of the season since 1993. The young core has progressed more quickly than anyone could have predicted.

Since the uproar surrounding Bob Gainey's trade deadline activity, or lack thereof, the Habs have won three in a row and seem to approach each game with a new level of confidence. You could hear and see the relief of guys like Michael Ryder and Chris Higgins on Tuesday night. Losing Cristobal Huet was a blow, but the Carey Price era is upon us, and the Canadiens look pretty happy with it. It's tough to lose a teammate like that but clearly the Habs didn't think they could win a playoff series with him between the pipes.

The Kostitsyn brothers are looking more dangerous every game. Their parents were in attendance last night and must have liked what they saw. Andrei got the game winner on a ridiculous wraparound, victimizing the best goaltender in the world in the process. Sergei got 7 hits and was setting up his linemates all night long. They're a lot of fun to watch, especially when they're on the ice together.

Alex Kovalev is on another level out there, especially on the power play. Pucks seem to find him and guys have an incredibly difficult time clearing the puck when he's around. His anticipation is perfect. There really aren't any holes in his game. He won't get consideration for the Hart trophy but he deserves to. He is the MVP of the top team in the East, averaging over a point per game and playing in every situation. Opposing players are terrified of being embarrassed by him. Kovy is everything a Hart trophy candidate should be: leader, mentor and finisher. The success of the Canadiens begins and ends with number 27.

Tough road trip begins late tomorrow night. The Habs have struggled against Western teams this year but if the new-look Habs stay with the current formula, they should have success.

Today, let's just enjoy first place.