The Montreal Canadiens are good.
There was some skepticism on whether the Habs would be able to capitalize off their effort from the Stanley Cup Playoff bubble. Montreal, the No. 12 seed in the Eastern Conference, ended the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season in the qualifying round. We can talk about the imploding Penguins another day.
But for now, there’s cause for celebration in the streets of Montreal (socially distanced, of course) because the Habs are one of the early-season darlings deserving of our attention. This division realignment has made for some intriguing starts, but none more compelling than the North Division. Montreal, as of Tuesday, is one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for first in the North, with a game in hand.
If the playoffs started today, the North would have a foursome of Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Winnipeg. Sign me up.
But the Habs, much like they did in the bubble, are relying on depth during their 6-1-2 start. Only this depth is more explosive than the bubble. Montreal added wings Tyler Toffoli (four-year contract) and Josh Anderson (seven-year contract) to provide a much-needed scoring punch.
Toffoli leads Montreal with seven goals, while Anderson has regained his former Columbus form with six points (four goals, two assists).
Defenseman Jeff Petry has forced himself into the very-early Norris discussion, leading the Habs with 11 points (four goals, seven assists). He’s been one of the best two-way defensemen in the game, but the scoring touch adds an element to this Montreal blueline that already has Shea Weber and budding rookie Alexander Romanov.
We haven’t even reached the mainstays; Brendan Gallagher (four goals), Tomas Tatar (six points) and Jonathan Drouin (nine points in nine games) have all been great.
The MVP, however, is Nick Suzuki. A name that Vegas Golden Knights fans are likely cheering for if they can, Suzuki is also at a point-per-game pace with nine points (three goals, six assists) after a two-point night Monday.
Suzuki, along with Tatar, were the main pieces in the infamous Max Pacioretty trade with Vegas in 2018. Suzuki was one of the triplets Vegas selected in the first round of their inaugural draft (Cody Glass, Erik Brannstrom). Glass, of course, is the lone wolf remaining with Brannstrom in Ottawa as a part of the Mark Stone trade. By the way, the Stone trade is looking like the greatest heist this side of Herschel Walker.
Suzuki has slowly developed a trusted 200-foot game while being a sneaky playmaker for the Habs. He came into the league with a wicked shot that would destroy light fixtures at the Las Vegas Ice Center. Now, he’s added the passing to his repertoire. He’s the star Montreal can build around.
Montreal leads the league at a whopping 4.33 goals per game, and that number has helped on the books. The Habs are 7-2 against the spread with the over cashing five times, including Monday’s win against Vancouver. Montreal is 3-0-1 against Vancouver with each win by at least three goals.
That 6-2 win against Vancouver came after a 2-0 loss at Calgary on Saturday. Teams in the North Division are 6-1 this season in their first home game after playing on the road; overall, teams are 18-6 this year.
In short, this team is dangerous. Carey Price’s numbers could be better (2.77 GAA, .903 save percentage), but the name of the game is to score more goals than the other team, and Montreal has done that better than most.
Good goaltending, a young team, in a realigned division that is up for grabs. Don’t look now, but the Canadiens are coming. Here are our NHL sports betting picks for this weekend.
Thursday 2/4 NHL Betting Picks
Stars at Blue Jackets: This matchup is going to come down to goaltending, which I expect to favor Columbus. Entering Tuesday, the Jackets have gone under the total the past three games. If Dallas is starting Jake Oettinger, the CBJ should have enough to get by. BLUE JACKETS
Friday 2/5 NHL Betting Picks
Predators at Panthers: If Nashville could play on the road all year, it might as well. Entering Tuesday, all of the Preds’ wins have come away from Nashville. The under has cashed in three of those wins, and if it comes down to goaltending, we know what Sergei Bobrovsky will not bring to the table. PREDATORS
Saturday 2/6 NHL Betting Picks
Penguins at Islanders: After allowing 11 goals in their first two road games, Pittsburgh has won four of five away from PPG Paints Arena. Given New York’s struggles of late, and Sidney Crosby finding his scoring touch, it’s a perfect mix. PENGUINS
Last week: 1-2