Canadiens’ hot start thickens plot in Montreal

Alex Galchenyuk is entering his sophomore season with the Montreal Canadiens. (CP file)

By Pat Pickens

Not surprisingly, the Montreal Canadiens have been at the epicentre of hockey news since the NHL lockout ended.

There was intrigue about Michel Therrien’s takeover. There was the Scott Gomez buyout ordeal. Now, the front-page news involves P.K. Subban’s holdout.

It’s a topic which has suddenly bombarded the NHL landscape, even earning itself a brief “Hot Stove” segment on Saturday night’s Hockey Night in Canada broadcast.

Subban’s holdout is a juicy story, but the Canadiens — through four games — have written an even more intriguing tale.

The Canadiens, who finished 15th out of 15 in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12, are 3-1 and are just one point out of first place. Even without Subban on the blue line, Montreal’s tied for the league lead in goals allowed (7) through four games and dealt New Jersey its first loss of the season on Sunday night, 4-3 at the Bell Centre.

Having a healthy Andrei Markov — knock on wood Montreal fans — has helped alleviate Subban’s absence. Markov, who missed all but 20 games the past two seasons with various injuries, leads the team in goals, including the winner Sunday in overtime, is tied for the team lead in points, is a plus-2 and is leading Montreal in ice-time through four games.

Montreal’s youth movement has paid dividends, as well. Second-year defender Raphael Diaz has five points and is a plus-2. Twenty-four-year-old centre Ryan White potted his first NHL goal Sunday, as did 20-year-old Brendan Gallagher.

Alex Galyenchuk was one of Montreal’s best forwards Sunday and is all of 18 years old. His youthful exuberance and speed has apparently rubbed off on Erik Cole, who had a turn-back-the-clock, performance Sunday. Rene Bourque has played his way into top-six minutes and is a plus-1 through four games.

Albertans: face meet palm.

The Candiens sport 16 players with a plus rating, and thus far, Carey Price hasn’t let them down. Price, presently, is fifth in the NHL in goals-against average (1.73) and save percentage (.936).

Those who follow the Subban holdout claim the sides are far apart, and decree that Montreal holds all the cards. The Canadiens hold his rights and are ill-prepared to trade him, according to reports. Others speculate that Subban’s leverage drops even greater as the Canadiens play well without him.

Logic would say that Montreal’s better with Subban than without him, and I’d say the Canadiens are certainly more talented with him in the lineup.

But the real question is, if Montreal’s going to author a season for the ages, why wouldn’t Subban want to be a part of that?

I guess — and no surprise either — the plot thickens.