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Behind Enemy Lines: The NHL-Best Canadiens head to Raleigh

“Les Habitants” enter PNC Arena for the only time this season

NHL: Florida Panthers at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Like they did last season, the Montreal Canadiens have begun this year with a blistering start. At 13-2-2 (28 points) they sport the best mark in all the NHL, but they enter Friday’s matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes on a two-game winless streak. The Hurricanes will look to extend that mini-slide for the Canadiens in the first of three meetings between the two teams in the 2016-2017 season.

While their offseason was eventful, it certainly did nothing to affect the most important Canadien of all. Carey Price, who is not expected to start in net Friday against the Canes, holds a .948 save percentage and a sparkling 10-0-1 record in the early going.

Beyond the goaltending, a team doesn’t get to eleven games over .500 in 17 contests without significant contributions across the board. New acquisition Shea Weber has settled in nicely, as he leads the team with seven goals and has contributed six assists so far. It may not make the Montreal faithful forget completely about the departed P.K. Subban, but it certainly softens the blow.

Additionally, Alexander Radulov has returned from the KHL after five years away and at the age of 30 and has produced 14 points, good for second on the team to start the season. Seen as a bit of a wildcard pickup in the offseason, Radulov has paid early dividends, but may be absent tonight.

Also shining brightly for Montreal this season has been Alex Galchenyuk, the team's points leader. Galchenyuk has 18 points, with six goals (second to Weber) and twelve assists. The 22-year-old center is coming off his first 30-goal season a year ago, and appears in his way to besting that mark this year.

There are not many categories that you can look at in which the Canadiens have not excelled so far, but if you had to look for an area that Montreal is looking to improve, it would be the penalty kill. Chiefly, the Canadiens would like to start by having fewer penalties to kill, as they currently rank third-worst in the league in power play opportunities surrendered at 67. In all likelihood, their below average penalty kill (82.09%) has particularly been hampered by the frequency in which it has been deployed. If you are looking for an area that the Hurricanes can try and take advantage, having the Canadiens spend a significant chunk of the game shorthanded would be a good starting place.

Conversely, Montreal has been deadly on the power play themselves, as they have converted 23.5% of the time, good for sixth in the NHL. This is where Weber has been particularly effective, as six of his seven goals have come on the power play. Expect the Hurricanes’ second-ranked penalty kill unit to key on Weber, should the situation arise.

What to Watch For

  • Tonight is the first of a back-to-back for the Canadiens so, as mentioned earlier, expect to see Al Montoya in goal for Montreal. Acquired this offseason, Montoya has seen a bit more action than other clear backup netminders as the Canadiens continue to try and keep Carey Price as healthy as possible after last season’s injury. Montoya will make his seventh start, and brings a .909 save percentage and 3.14 goals against average - and that includes being at the wrong end of a 10-0 pasting at the hands of the Blue Jackets two weeks ago.
  • Chris Terry returns to Raleigh and is expected to be in the lineup for the Canadiens. This will be only his second game of the season, as he has not been able to crack the regular Montreal lineup.
  • Max Pacioretty was the only Canadiens player to average a point per game in last season’s series, with two goals and an assist.