Marc Bergevin, in one of his dapper suits, stretching out a mask with a smile so wide his face must be sore. That’s what we’re picturing right now as the Canadiens pack their bags and prepare to return to Montreal with 10 points banked in the standings following this season-opening, cross-country, six-game road trip.
He had a vision for this team, one he outlined before training camp got underway when he said, “We mean business, we’re here to win, and we can play any way you want,” and it’s come to life immediately—with an easy-on-the-eyes, 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday providing more vivid confirmation.
Still, the Canadiens’ general manager couldn’t have expected this right off the bat. No matter how excited he was about adding Jake Allen, Joel Edmundson, Alex Romanov, Tyler Toffoli, Josh Anderson, Corey Perry and Michael Frolik to a team that proved to him, in the 2020 Stanley Cup playoff bubble, it was much further along than a 24th-placed finish in the regular season would’ve indicated. He had to be concerned about this all coming together quickly after an abbreviated and exhibition-less camp.
But the GM must be elated now.
Allen went 2-for-2 behind Carey Price, Edmundson gradually found his place and offered precisely what was expected of him, Romanov entered the NHL in an eye-opening, “Hello, world” kind of way, Toffoli recorded seven of his eight points on the season in three games against the Vancouver team he left to join Montreal, Anderson tripled his goal output and equaled his point total from an injury-riddled and forgettable 26-game 2019-20 campaign, and Perry made his Canadiens debut with a goal on his very first shot and offered a performance reminiscent of most of the 1,045 games he’s played in this league.
Poor Frolik is still waiting for his chance, stuck behind a deep crop of forwards playing faultless hockey.
It’s a full-team story so far. The Canadiens lead the NHL with 29 goals, with 16 of 20 skaters filling the net. The defence has produced more points than any other group of six in the league. The power play has cashed in on more than a quarter of its opportunities, the penalty kill has allowed six goals and scored four, and the team has ravaged its opponents at 5-on-5.
As coach Claude Julien said after Saturday’s convincing win, “It’s what we hoped for when we made all these acquisitions.”
In his wildest dreams, he couldn’t have seen it going quite this well this soon.
“We’ve found a better balance, and we wanted to assure ourselves that we had that,” Julien said. “We have 56 games and we’re playing almost every two days, so it’s important to have that balance and that depth. We have it in front of the net, we have it at every position, and it showed again tonight … These things have already revealed themselves.”
Other things have been revealed, too.
When we interviewed Bergevin just before the Canadiens left for Toronto to start this road trip, he told us his team’s defence was “not going to be fun to play against,” and so far that’s clear.
The evidence mounted from city to city, with Toronto’s Auston Matthews wearing the marks of Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot crosschecks, with Edmonton super-scorers Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl combining for just one assist between them through two games, and with Vancouver star Elias Pettersson—desperate to snap a miserable early-season funk—being held to just one goal in three games.
And then there was what the Canadiens did to everybody else. It just seemed like everywhere the Leafs, Oilers and Canucks turned, those bleu, blanc et rouge sweaters were right in their faces.
“The pace hasn’t changed,” Bergevin told us after watching training camp. “What made us a fast team in the past is still available to our team.”
That’s undeniable now.
And the variety Bergevin hoped the Canadiens would offer was featured throughout this trip, with a 55 per-cent share of the 5-on-5 shot attempts and 137 hits thrown.
Are these Canadiens tough? Like an Edmundson left hook to Tyler Myers’s cheek.
Seeing the six-foot-four defenceman give up more than a couple of inches to avenge the Myers hit that concussed Joel Armia was a sign of how well him and the other new guys have integrated.
“Just awesome for a guy to step up like that,” Jonathan Drouin said of Edmundson’s decision to fight Myers. “When we saw (Myers) didn’t get suspended, we knew it was going to happen; somebody was going to fight Myers, and just for him to step in like that—he had a great fight, too—it’s just huge leadership.”
Drouin loved what he saw from Perry, too.
Perry had to wait five games on the taxi squad to take Armia’s place in the lineup. He’s a Stanley Cup-winning, gold-medal-wearing legend of the game, and he’s willing to push his ego aside for one significant reason.
“I’m here to win,” he said. “I believe in this group, and you can see through the first six games and (you saw) through training camp everyone’s here to win and show everybody that we mean business.”
Nick Suzuki means business. He has vaulted his way to top-line centre status with at least a point in every game and with the type of defensive commitment that had Drouin refer to him on Saturday as “a mini Patrice Bergeron.”
Centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi, at 20 years old, has Perry impressed.
And both Suzuki and Kotkaniemi are probably making Bergevin feel good about the fact that he didn’t give either one of them up to get a six-foot-three, 218-pound, 22-year-old, established Francophone centre who reportedly wanted to join this Canadiens team but ended up being traded to Winnipeg on Saturday.
The GM doesn’t have Pierre-Luc Dubois, but he’s got the team he hoped he had before things got started on Jan. 13.
“All four lines are firing and we’re playing solid defensively on the back end,” said Edmundson. “So, it’s been good. It’s nice to see everybody contributing. Just gotta continue that.”