Alexander Radulov emerging as an unexpected leader for Canadiens

Carey Price allowed just one goal on 24 shots to get the Canadiens a 4-1 win over the Kings.

MONTREAL — It’s becoming repetitive.

Night in, night out, Alexander Radulov has been the Montreal Canadiens‘s best forward. The charismatic Russian picked up an assist for his 12th point of the season in Montreal’s 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday as the Canadiens improved to 12-1-1 this year.

The skill shines through on nearly every shift, as Radulov jukes and jives his way through the offensive zone. He’s got every move in the bag, and he’s got the patience to pull them off. These were known commodities of his game for anyone who so much as tuned into a YouTube sampling of his work in the KHL over the last four years.

The surprising part? It’s the energy and work Radulov puts into every presence on the ice.

“I think Rads is one of the guys that guys have a lot of respect for,” said teammate Daniel Carr. “Someone told me this in the summer, ‘You’re going to be amazed at how hard he works.’ I think I still am (amazed). He’s one of the last guys on the ice in practice, he works as hard as he can every day.

“As talented as he is, how hard he works is, I think, what makes him so great.”

Step in line, Daniel.

There’s no question Radulov’s work ethic has been off the charts so far, and it’s helped him dissolve a tired narrative about his lack of maturity — one he carried away from Nashville in an ugly breakup with the Predators. A narrative that CSKA Moscow general manager Sergei Federov said he obliterated over the course of four impeccable seasons with his team.

He’s made quite the impression on his Canadiens teammates.

“The second I met him I knew what was said about him was completely blown out of proportion,” said Montreal captain Max Pacioretty. “He’s a great team guy, he loves to win and loves to compete, and he’s just fun to be around.”

Radulov’s even more fun to play with, according to Canadiens forward Paul Byron, who opened the scoring in Montreal’s ninth straight home win — which tied a franchise record set by the 1953-54 Canadiens.

The way Radulov set up the goal epitomized what he’s brought to the equation for Montreal.

Towards the end of a minute-long shift, Radulov stole the puck off Kings defenceman Jake Muzzin on a second-effort stick-lift. He then dragged Muzzin towards the offensive blue line before sharply cutting back to the net.

The move turned Muzzin inside-out and the puck slipped over to Byron, who finished the play off from three feet outside of goaltender Peter Budaj’s crease.

“I think that is (Radulov’s) game right there,” said Pacioretty. “He’s really, really strong on the puck. … Once you get the puck to Radu, he’s almost impossible to knock off the puck. His strength is when he’s doing cut-backs and protecting the puck down low — I haven’t seen too many people do that better than him.”

And as Canadiens defenceman Jeff Petry said, that effort from Radulov set the tone for what was unquestionably Montreal’s best effort of the season to date.

The Canadiens limited the NHL’s best possession team to 48 shot attempts and had 48 of their own. Carey Price came up with some clutch saves in the third period — none better than a desperate skate-stop on Kings captain Anze Kopitar — and members of three of Montreal’s four lines hit the scoresheet.

The Habs controlled so much of the play that they were out-hit 58-21.

The Radulov show only started on that rambunctious shift which set Byron up 7:48 into the first period.

The Russian’s edge set an example for his teammates to follow in the second as they were absorbing the 43 hits Los Angeles threw in the frame.

Kings defenceman Matt Greene came barreling towards Radulov, who turned with the puck and launched a reverse hit at the six-foot-three, 235-pounder.

Down went Greene. The building came to life, and so did the Canadiens bench.

With so much ink spilled in the off-season on the leadership Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw would bring to Montreal, it’s clear that Radulov was overlooked in that department.

“Absolutely, he’s a leader,” said Byron. “He’s relentless on the ice, even in practice he’s always battling and always digging. He’s a guy that drags you into the battle and it’s great to have an addition like that on the team.”

Has Radulov made his mark in Montreal’s room, too? You bet.

“He talks a lot,” said Byron. “He’s a funny guy. You don’t always understand what he’s saying and he’s kinda spitting all over the place.

“Guys call him the Tasmanian Devil. He’s quite the character. He’s been a great fit for our team and we’re lucky to have a player like him.”

Radulov’s value, at $5.75 million for one season, is becoming clearer by the day.

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