Chicago Blackhawks Eye On The Enemy: A Winning Habit (Montreal)

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Nov 8, 2016; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens forward Paul Byron (41) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal against Boston Bruins goalie Zane McIntyre (31) during the third period at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Blackhawks will host one of the league’s top teams — thus far — in a weekend evening contest

We’re rolling into the weekend, which means it’s time for a closer look at a team the Chicago Blackhawks will take on in the very near future.

This week’s Eye on the Enemy is leaving the country and talking with A Winning Habit’s Kenric Mannette, representing his favorite team, the Montreal Canadiens, for FanSided.

The Habs were in rough shape last year, with star goaltender Carey Price missing a large portion of the season. They made some offseason moves, most notably pushing out young, promising defenseman P.K. Subban for older, still-good defenseman Shea Weber. They also brought back the mercurial Alexander Radulov.

I honestly wasn’t sure why so many people saw Montreal as a team to beat this preseason. Lo and behold, however, the Habs are off to an extremely hot start. It took until Game 11 for them to lose in regulation (which they did in magnificent fashion, blowing up in a 10-0 loss to Columbus).

So what’s going on in Montreal this year? And what are they keys for the Habs to take a game at the United Center? Let’s turn it over to Kenric.

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Nov 5, 2016; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw (65) skates during the warmup period before the game against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Some questions with A Winning Habit’s Kenric Mannette

The Canadiens didn’t lose in regulation until their 11th game. Did you expect the team to get off to this quick of a start?

KM: There was a ton of pressure on the Habs after all the wild offseason moves that were made with the club. I thought overall that they were improved from last season, but I didn’t expect them to be in first place in the league. So this is a surprise.

What have been the keys to Montreal starting this well, in your mind?

KM: So far, there have been two keys for the Habs’ success.

1) Great goaltending

Other than the 10-0 shellacking they took against the Columbus Blue Jackets, both Carey Price and Al Montoya have been spectacular for the Habs. Price is proving that he is not only one of the best players in the league, but that he is the best.

2) Balanced scoring

Alex Galchenyuk is leading the team in scoring. However, the Canadiens have had lots of other offensive contributors. Torrey Mitchell, Phillip Danault and Paul Byron, among others, have provided scoring and timely scoring at crucial moments in games.

All anyone could talk about in the offseason was how bad a deal P.K. Subban for Shea Weber was. Weber is among the team’s leaders in points … so how’s that working out?

KM: I was definitely among those who thought that the Habs had made a bad deal. However, Weber is finally getting all the media recognition for his amazing play that he was deprived of in Nashville. Weber has been everything as advertised, and if he can keep this pace up he will probably win the Norris Trophy.

He is just such a force on the ice with every shift that he takes. His shot is so powerful, frequently registering slapshots right around 100 mph consistently. He is so physical, too. Blackhawks players and fans must not have looked forward to seeing Weber so often when he was in their division. He’s terrific!

The other thing everyone was talking about was how crazy it was for Montreal to give Alex Radulov another chance. He’s also among the team’s leaders in points. Thoughts on Radulov and how he’s apparently changed?

KM: He’s also been terrific. He seems to play really well with Galchenyuk, and he brings a ton of passion on the ice which his teammates can really feed off of.

As far as off-ice issues from the past, the players or management feel that he is a changed man. Although time will tell if he has truly changed.

And a healthy Carey Price on top of all that. How important is his health and strong play to this team’s success?

KM: Like previously mentioned, he is the league’s best player. The Canadiens are improved, but without Price they will struggle mightily, just like last season.

How are you enjoying the former Blackhawks the Canadiens employ (Andrew Shaw and Danault)?

KM: Marc Bergevin, also a former Blackhawk, has made some really shrewd moves with those two trades. Danault is a great defensive player and makes smart, instinctive decisions on the penalty kill.

Shaw is going to be a fan favorite for years to come. The goals haven’t come yet, but he gets a ton of chances to score. He also gives the Habs a ton of energy with his in-your-face style of play.

Biggest surprise so far? Biggest disappointment?

KM: The biggest surprise would have to be the team’s record so far. They are playing, well but the Habs tend to start slow in most of their games. But they have been able to make up for it with strong efforts in the second and third periods.

Biggest disappointment would be Max Pacioretty. He hasn’t been able to find the back of the net enough. If it wasn’t for the balanced scoring, the Habs would be in big trouble because they need Pacioretty to produce.

What’s your outlook for the rest of the season? They certainly can’t keep up this sort of win-loss pace, right?

KM: They will be really good because the Habs play in a really soft division. Outside of Tampa Bay, there isn’t a ton of high-caliber competition. So as long as Price stays healthy, the Canadiens will be really high in the standings.

What are some of the keys to the Canadiens coming out on top against the Blackhawks? Do you see this as a sort of measuring stick game for both clubs with how well they’ve played?

KM: The Canadiens have to prove that they can come out and set the pace rather than start slow. The Blackhawks are just too skilled for the Canadiens just to sit around and wait until second period to start playing.

The Blackhawks have had so much success over the past few years, so yeah, I would say that it is a measuring-stick type of game. Bergevin wants to build his team to mirror the championship qualities that the Blackhawks have, so it will be interesting to see how the teams match up.

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