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At the start of the season, popular media and fan opinion was divided. The consensus was that the Habs would be a playoff team with the return of Carey Price but many saw them as a middling team and many were unsure what Shea Weber would bring. After 21 games, both Weber and the Canadiens are exceeding expectations. He has been outstanding and they have been at the top of the NHL standings all season, with a 15-4-2 record for 32 points through the opening quarter.

Al Montoya led the Habs to an excellent start when Price missed the first games of the season with the flu. However, a really ugly 10-0 shutout loss to Columbus–along with a number of games won primarily due to outstanding goaltending –have many questioning whether or not Montreal is a “true contender”. In other words, the start of this season is eerily similar to last season. However, given that Tomas Plekanec has struggled mightily and David Desharnais has been largely ineffective, it has already become clear that the team requires an upgrade at second-line centre despite their position at the top of the league standings.

Players must have played in at least five games to receive a grade.

Alex Galchenyuk – A: Alex is ahead of last year’s scoring pace. More importantly he has finally cemented his status as the first line centre. He’s building on his strong finish last season which saw him reach the 30 goal plateau and he has, not coincidentally, built outstanding chemistry with Alexander Radulov. He finished the quarter as Montreal’s leading scorer, averaging a point per game despite limited ice time for his production. While many fans were justifiably clamouring for more ice time for Galchenyuk before his injury, he does still have some weaknesses which contribute to his lower ice time. He is still struggling, as most young centres do, in the face-off circle, particularly against experienced centres. Also typical of young centres, he is prone to lapses in the defensive zone. However, his flaws are minor in light of his production especially since this is actually his first full season as a centre.

1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 8 goals, 3 assists, 21 points, +10 rating, 12 PIMS, 41 shots, 19.5 Sh%

Alexander Radulov – A: It seems a long time ago that Radulov was being mentioned in the same breath as Alex Semin. While there were many questions about his character when the Canadiens signed him (due to his disastrous stint in Nashville several years ago), after 21 games Radulov is already beloved by Montreal fans due to his amazing skill, consistent effort and contagious joie de vivre when playing hockey. He also might be approaching a new record for nicknames from fan chants of “Radu”, media references to “the Radiator” and teammates referring to him at first as “Rads” and recently “Taz” after the cartoon Tasmanian Devil renowned for the ferocious, whirling intensity which Radulov displays on the ice. With his gap-toothed smile and penchant for jaw dropping displays of skill and strength Radulov has become a driver of Montreal’s team energy and offense. Here at last is the top-six forward the Canadiens have been lacking for several seasons. So far he has been more a playmaker than a scorer but even though he missed a three games with the flu – games in which his absence was notable – he is the team’s second leading forward in scoring. With four goals and 17 points through 19 games he could push for 80 points if he could keep up this pace. The question about Radulov now is not whether or not the Canadiens want to re-sign him, but rather “how long?” and “for how much?” Most fans hope that the “Radulove” will be mutual between him and management when it comes time for a contract extension.

1st Quarter Stats: 19 GP, 4 goals, 13 assists, 17 points, +6 rating, 18 PIMS, 31 shots, 12.9 Sh%

Paul Byron – A-: I considered giving Byron an even higher grade given his unexpected production when promoted to the first line and due to his amazing speed and determination. However, his shooting percentage is not sustainable and he will inevitably tail off. Nevertheless, he is dynamic, productive, and a constant threat on the penalty kill. His waiver wire pickup stands as one of Marc Bergevin’s most understated and effective moves.

1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 7 goals, 5 assists, 12 points, +5 rating, 8 PIMS, 27 shots, 27.9 Sh%

Phillip Danault – B+: Danault has been a pleasant surprise. After a stellar debut on the fourth line he was moved between the second and third lines. He is strong on the puck, plays a heavy, grinding game, and has shown an unexpected scoring touch.

1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 5 goals, 4 assists, 9 points, +1 rating, 4 PIMS, 30 shots, 16.7 Sh%

Torrey Mitchell – B+: The fourth line center grades this high because he is stellar defensively and has been scoring timely goals. When a fourth liner drives to the net hard consistently and threatens the opposition with his speed, he is more than earning his keep. Mitchell has made outstanding contributions in numerous games with limited ice time although his shooting percentage is not sustainable.

1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 5 goals, 2 assists, 7 points, + 6 rating, 8 PIMS, 12 shots, 41.7 sh%

Brendan Gallagher – B: Gallagher has not produced the level of offence that he or the team would like, but his effort and intensity never wavered even in the middle of a career record slump. Despite the slump, his compete level remains off the charts and he never gives up on a play. Gallagher never hesitates to drive the net to create havoc and take the resultant abuse from opponents – and occasionally, the referee as he is penalized for getting mugged. His current shooting percentage is due for an increase. That should mean that he will soon be rewarded for his commitment which would help him return to his usual levels of production.

1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 4 goals, 7 assists, 11 points, +5 rating, 20 PIMS, 56 shots, 7.1 Sh%

Andrew Shaw – B: While Shaw has not produced the offence that some were expecting due to his contract, he has come as advertised in every other way. A nasty, aggravating pest, he does anything he can to irritate the opposition and get them off of their game. Like Gallagher, his effort and intensity never waver and if he continues his drive to the net at every opportunity style more goals will come. He trails only Weber and Emelin in team hits and his motor is always running. “Shawsy” will be even more valuable as the season progresses

1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 4 goals, 4 assists, 8 points, +8 rating, 20 PIMS, 40 shots, 10 Sh%

Max Pacioretty – B-: For some reason, Pacioretty gets an enormous amount of flack in Montreal. Max has continuing improved his defensive game and is a constant threat to score as a penalty killer – although he has seemed to miss P.K. Subban’s breakaway passes. Almost unnoticed he has become a more involved physical player and actually was tied for third in forward hits with Radulov towards the end of November. Max’s overall game is excellent and while he is not scoring as many goals as we have become accustomed to seeing his overall production is not far below normal. Unfortunately, the team needs him to score and if that is not happening he will be under the microscope. If Pacioretty is moved or eventually chooses to leave Montreal, his productivity and consistency will be missed.

1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 5 goals, 9 assists, 14 points, +6 rating, 14 PIMS, 56 shots, 8.29 Sh%

Artturi Lehkonen – C+: Before he got injured Lehkonen seemed to be making a relatively smooth transition to the North American game. While his offensive game from the Swedish Elite League has not yet emerged, he has looked dangerous at times and plays a solid, responsible, defensive game. Therrien seems to trust him so he should get an expanded role as the season progresses. If he continues to improve, and starts burying a few more of his chances, his next quarter grade will be significantly higher.

1st Quarter Stats: 12 GP, 2 goals, 1 assists, 3 points, 2 rating, 4 PIMS, 27 shots, 7.1 Sh%

Tomas Plekanec – C: Tomas has lost the scoring touch he briefly rediscovered last season. He is still playing excellent defence and has largely shut down the oppositions’ top players as usual while also being consistent in the faceoff circle. Unfortunately that is not enough for the teams’ highest paid forward. Fortunately, it is unlikely that he will remain mired in this season long slump and shooting around 2-3%. In any case, calls for trading him are premature and ill-advised. The team needs a bona fide second-line centre. Once Tomas is in his proper place as the third line centre his production (or lack thereof) will not matter as much as he continues in his crucial shut-down role. That said, if his lack of scoring continues and the Canadiens do not go far in the playoffs it wouldn’t be a surprise to see an under-productive, over-priced Plekanec exposed to Vegas in the expansion draft.

1st Quarter Stats: 21 GP, 1 goals, 5 assists, 6 points, 0 rating, 6 PIMS, 43 shots, 2.3 Sh %

Brian Flynn – C: Flynn comes as advertised a speedy, dogged checker with no finish. When healthy he has formed an excellent fourth line with Mitchell and Danault. They are able to hold the puck in the other team’s zone for extended periods and if he had any touch around the net, he would have several goals already.

1st Quarter Stats: 12 GP, 0 goals, 2 assists, 2 points, +4 rating, 4 PIMS, 18 shots, 0 Sh %

Daniel Carr – C: Carr has been highly effective in limited ice tine. Although he is not overly big he uses his body effectively, hits hard, plays sound defence, and goes to the net puck like no one else on the team except Gallagher and Shaw. If he continues to improve, and starts burying a few more of his chances, his next quarter grade will be significantly higher. Many observers would already prefer to see him in the lineup on a nightly basis.

1st Quarter Stats: 9 GP, 1 goals, 1 assists, 2 points, 2 rating, 4 PIMS, 14 shots, 7.1 Sh%

Chris Terry – C-: Terry was called up due to the injury to Flynn and while his play was adequate, he had many fans yearning for Flynn’s return. Therrien even gave him a brief stint in the power play, which did not endear him to fans either. A capable 4th line fill-in, Terry didn’t show much that indicates he will be anything more in Montreal. The only notables is that he is the only minus forward on the team through the first quarter. In other words, his performance rates a resounding “Meh!”

1st Quarter Stats: 5 GP, 0 goals, 1 assists, 1 point, -1 rating, 2 PIMS, 7 shots, 0 Sh %

David Desharnais – D: Desharnais’ point totals are mediocre for a 3rd line centre. Worse, he seems to have lost a step and to be even more frequently, and easily, knocked off the puck than in previous seasons. While I have always been a fan of Desharnais, I can no longer see the team winning the Cup with him in the lineup. Ergo, I hope I am wrong or Bergevin trades or waives him at some point although with his injury that won’t be happening for a while.

1st Quarter Stats: 20 GP, 3 goals, 7 assists, 10 points, +3 rating, 2 PIMS, 15 shots, 20 Sh%

Not Ranked: Charles Hudon, Sven Andrighetto