Easy decision what story line to lead with this week around the NHL, and that's the unbeaten Montreal Canadiens, who have become the heavy Bovada favorites at +650 to win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1993 -- the last time a team from north of the border did so.
The Habs (9-0-0) started a three-game road trip through Canada on Tuesday night in the late game of the schedule at Vancouver. Montreal is a -120 favorite with a total of 5. A Canadiens win would tie the 1993-94 Toronto Maple Leafs and 2006-07 Buffalo Sabres for the NHL record of 10 straight wins to open a season. Should Montreal beat the Canucks, it can break the record Thursday at Edmonton.
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If you are wondering, neither those Maple Leafs nor Sabres even made the Stanley Cup Finals. Toronto finished 43-29-12 (84 games that year), good for 98 points and second in the Central Division behind Detroit. The Leafs would lose in the conference finals for the second year in a row, dropping the series to the Canucks in five games. Buffalo finished 53-22-7 for 113 points, the most in the Eastern Conference. Buffalo lost in the East Finals in five games to Ottawa.
Frankly, the most impressive start ever was Chicago going 21-0-3 in 2012-13 before losing its first regulation game. The Hawks' only three losses to that point were all in the shootout, including two in the first eight games of the season. That team won its second Cup this decade but had to rally from 3-1 down in the West semis against the Red Wings.
Montreal has allowed just 12 goals thus far and Carey Price is your early favorite to repeat as Hart and Vezina Trophy winner as he is 7-0-0 with two shutouts. He has a 1.29 goals-against average and a .961 save percentage. The Habs have scored at least three goals in every game -- eight wins are by multiple goals -- and 14 players have at least one. Max Pacioretty leads with seven. The most amazing stat is Montreal has trailed for all of 2:57 this season after allowing the first goal in a 4-1 over Detroit on Oct. 17 but then quickly thing things up.
Here are some other games to watch this week.
Pittsburgh at Washington, Wednesday: For the first time this season, the NHL's best individual rivalry, Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin, is renewed. Those two have combined for five Hart Trophies and six 50-goal seasons (five by Ovechkin), although both their teams have flopped in the playoffs this decade (Pens did win Cup in 2009 but haven't been back to Finals since). Ovechkin, the Russian winger, was the No. 1 overall pick in 2004. Crosby, the Canadian center, was No. 1 overall in 2005. They debuted in the NHL the same night: Oct. 5, 2005. Also, Ovechkin and Crosby each had a hat trick in Game 2 of the 2009 East Semis, the first players from opposite teams to do so in a playoff game in 13 years (Caps won 4-3). It has happened four times in NHL history but not since. Washington looks like the second-best team in the NHL thus far as it enters on a five-game winning streak and hast just one loss. The Caps are plus-11 in goal differential, behind only Montreal.
Anaheim at St. Louis, Thursday: What is wrong with the Ducks? They of course lost an epic Western Conference Finals to the Blackhawks last season but Anaheim has only three points entering Tuesday, fewest in the Western Conference, through seven games. Anaheim has some terrific forwards but has managed a scant six goals while allowing 20. Ducks No. 1 goalie Frederik Andersen has a 1.71 GAA and .940 save percentage and he is 0-3-2. The Ducks have scored one goal for him in six games. This concludes a five-game road trip for Anaheim.
Detroit at Ottawa, Saturday: This is the second half of a home-and-home between the clubs as they play in Motown on Friday night. The Wings are very banged up. Center Brad Richards is going to miss 1-2 weeks with a back injury, defenseman Mike Green 2-3 weeks with an upper-body injury and fellow blueliner Kyle Quincey at least a week as he goes through the league's concussion protocol. Johan Franzen remains sidelined indefinitely with more concussion problems and Pavel Datsyuk hasn't played yet this season due to ankle surgery. He did practice on Monday but isn't expected back for a couple of weeks yet.
Columbus vs. Winnipeg, Sunday: The Blue Jackets made the first coaching move of the season last week, firing Todd Richards and hiring the successful but hot-headed John Tortorella. Richards was canned after a franchise-worst 0-7-0 start to the season. The seven consecutive regulation losses to start a year matched a feat accomplished by only five other teams in the NHL's 98-year history. Columbus lost Tortorella's first game Thursday in Minnesota but got win No. 1 Saturday in Colorado. This will be the Jackets' first chance at home win No. 1.
Easily the biggest injury news last week was that Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith had to undergo surgery to repair a meniscal tear in his right knee and is expected to miss four to six weeks. Obviously Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are spectacular players, but Keith might be the Hawks' most important one because they are so thin on the blueline. Keith is one of the best defenseman in the NHL, winning two Norris Trophies, and was last season's Conn Smythe Trophy winner in the postseason, when he played incredibly heavy minutes. That's perhaps the one positive of this injury: Keith can rest up a bit more off that draining playoff run and be more fresh for later in the season.
St. Louis has lost forward Paul Stastny for at least five weeks with a broken foot. The 29-year-old was injured in the second period of a 4-3 victory in Vancouver on Friday. He has a goal, four assists and a plus-four rating in five games. Last season, he had 46 points in 74 games.
Buffalo forward Evander Kane will miss the next 4-6 weeks because of an injury to the medial collateral ligament in his left knee, but it won't require surgery. Kane sustained the injury during the third period of a 4-3 loss to New Jersey on Saturday when he was checked into the boards by Devils defenseman David Schlemko. Kane has one goal and two assists in eight games this season. He was traded to Buffalo during last season but didn't play for the Sabres as he was hurt then and underwent surgery.
Devils winger Tuomo Ruutu will miss 4-6 weeks due to a right foot fracture. The fracture did not show up initially, but another X-ray taken this weekend revealed it. Ruutu hadn't scored in the three games he played.
Columbus forward Ryan Johansen's status the rest of the week, if not longer, is up in the air as he is dealing with an undisclosed illness. He had some reported heart issues in the offseason, but his agent says this illness has nothing to do with that. Johansen is undergoing tests to determine what it is. Johansen is the Blue Jackets' best player. Last season, he scored 26 goals with 45 assists. In eight games this season, he has one goal and five assists.
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