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Wednesday 29th Mar 2017

The Montreal Canadiens have returned to the top of the power rankings after a total wash of a season last year when Carey Price was out with his big knee injury. Now, with Price back and healthy, the additions of Shea Weber via trade, and the free agent signings of Andrew Shaw and Alexander Radulov, the Canadiens are firing on all cylinders. I’ll bet nobody in Montreal is complaining now about getting raked over the coals in the Weber/P.K. Subban trade. Montreal is laying waste to all comers.

Nashville, on the other hand, is struggling to put two wins together. Subban has a 2g/3a/ +/- minus 6 slash line thus far while getting accustomed to the Predators style of play. Weber, however, has made a seamless transition up north when he was named NHL’s second star of the month for October with four goals, six assists and a +/- plus 14.

The Habs have run up a 9-0-1 record thus far while winning eight straight. This is the best start in Canadiens history, which says a lot considering how long the franchise has been around. Montreal has taken advantage of the scheduling, and racked up wins against seven teams that missed the playoffs last year. But more power to them, for these early-season wins matter when the doldrums of February and March hit when players are dinged up, and the schedule gets loaded with teams having to make up time lost from the World Cup of Hockey in September.

The Canadiens have allowed more than two goals only once during this stretch, and that was an overtime loss to Buffalo when Al Montoya was playing when Price had the flu. The only real chink in the Habs armor has been the first period, where only three goals have been scored, but the adjustments made after that period have been the right ones with a 31-11 scoring differential. Right now, Montreal is fourth in goals with 34 and first in goals against, allowing only 14 in ten games. With everything looking so bright in The City of Saints, it’s easy to see the flaws of the pretenders elsewhere.

Three playoff teams from last season have gotten out of the gates slowly, which is surprising considering that two had more than 100 points last year. Dallas (109 pts) and Florida (103 pts) each exceeded that total while Nashville had 96 points. Is there cause for concern yet? I’m not sure, but a few issues need to be addressed to right the ships.

Let’s get to the defending Campbell Conference champions, the Dallas Stars. Despite the 109 points last season, the Stars are in dire need of a top-tier goaltender and another top-four defender. The team's lack of goals is a very pressing issue, as Dallas is coming in at 25th out of 30 teams. Superstars Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are stuck in first gear, and with a combined 13 points between them, and a +/- minus 9, things are not good. The Stars' previously mentioned goaltending is horrid, with three wins between them and a combined .896% Save Percentage and 3.14 GAA. Keeping the puck out of the net is basic in hockey, and Dallas has struggled mightily at this task. The good news is that it’s early in the season and there is time to make corrections. I’m dreaming of Dallas GM Jim Nill and Tampa GM Steve Yzerman getting together and talking trade with Ben Bishop and Defenseman Jason Garrison headed to the Lone Star State and some prospects and picks coming to Tampa. Two former minds of the mighty Red Wings are probably in each other’s speed dials.

Florida is working out their issues as I write this and I'm most confident in the Panthers to return to elite form soon. Nashville, on the other hand, has me a little worried. The Preds have an extremely talented top-four defensive crew with P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm, but it’s been the forwards who are not contributing much to the show. Filip Forsberg has seven assists with zero goals while sniper James Neal is sitting at a lowly one goal and three assists and a pathetic +/- minus 5. It’s not just those two not putting forth the numbers, it’s the rest of them as well, and team defense went out the door with Shea Weber. I watched Anaheim skate circles around Nashville the other night, which left me wondering about the leadership of this team after Weber was traded. He was a presence even without speaking and led by example, while that 108 mph shot also spoke volumes. Nashville has the talent with two formidable scoring lines and a top-four that most teams would kill for, but some serious soul searching is needed here along with some desire to succeed.

You can always contact me on Twitter @PolkaPat

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