As the Habs embark on the stretch leading up to the trade deadline, they face an uphill battle to make the playoffs and will likely fall short again this season. However, there are some positives to take away as there is no quit in this group and as they get healthy, they’re starting to show just how good they can be.
First Star: Ilya Kovalchuk
Kovalchuk comes in as easily the most surprising HabsWorld First Star of the season. He was a wildcard when Bergevin signed him to a two-way $700,000 contract, but he has done nothing but impress since.
Though he isn’t as lethal as he was in his prime, his scoring touch and tremendous release remain as does his flair for the dramatic. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the character and leadership he has brought to the room and his role as a mentor for the young forwards cannot be overstated. The biggest question moving forward will be whether to try to extend him or move him at the deadline – and if the Habs are serious about contending next season, an extension should be a no-brainer.
Stats: 10 GP, 5 G, 4 A, 9 PTS, +4 rating
Second Star: Carey Price
Price has bounced back big time after a bit of downtime, posting impressive numbers throughout January and into the beginning of February. He’s going to need to be at the top of his game if the Canadiens are going to make a serious run at the playoffs.
When Price is healthy, rested, and dialed in, he remains among the league’s best goaltenders, giving Montreal a chance to win just about any game. Judging from a recent player poll by The Athletic, he still brings an intimidation factor to the ice as one of the goalies that players would rather not face.
Stats: 10 GP, 5-4-1 record, 2.09 GAA, .934 save %
Third Star: Tomas Tatar
Tatar has been a mainstay on the three stars this season, contributing consistently throughout the year. He leads the team in scoring and recently scored his 20th goal, making it six straight seasons that he has accomplished the feat (he’s in pretty exclusive company with that one). His consistency and ability to stay healthy have been especially important during an injury-ravaged campaign for the Canadiens.
Tatar will almost certainly attract interest at the deadline, despite having another year on his deal, but much like the aforementioned Kovalchuk, if the team hopes to contend next season there’s no way he should be moved (unless the offer is completely outrageous).
Stats: 13 GP, 2 G, 9 A, 11 PTS, +4 rating
Honourable Mention: Nick Suzuki
Suzuki just seems to be getting better and better throughout his rookie campaign and has risen to fourth in rookie scoring. It appears as though the Habs may have a star on their hands. He’s now firmly established himself at the centre position and employs tremendous vision and decision making with the puck on his stick. His development allows the Habs some more flexibility and the ability to experiment with some of their other young players, such as Ryan Poehling, on the wing.
Stats: 12 GP, 2 G, 5 A, 7 PTS, -3 rating