Canadiens' airtight defense borders on perfection

Every NHL team aspires to play perfect defense. The Montreal Canadiens are coming close to actually doing it.

Through five weeks of the season, the Canadiens are playing defense like it hasn't been played in years. After 17 games, the Canadiens' goals-against average of 1.40 was nearly half of the second-place Vancouver Canucks (2.71), and the Canadiens had allowed only eight goals during a nine-game winning streak.


No team has allowed an average of less than 2 goals per game for 36 years. The 1955-56 Canadiens surrendered just 131 goals in 70 games, an average of 1.87 per contest, on the way to their first of five straight Stanley Cups.

* Most teams would kill to have one goaltender with an average under two goals per game; the Canadiens have two. While Patrick Roy's average of 1.65 was the best in the league among regulars, backup Roland Melanson's was a microscopic 0.53 in 227 minutes of play. He had two shutouts in his first three starts.


Roy is trying to become the first goaltender since Bernie Parent (1.89 in 1973-74) to finish with a goals-against average of under 2.00. No one has finished under 2.40 since Boston's Pete Peeters posted a 2.36 average in 1982-83.

Parent's 1.89 GAPG was not particularly unusual. He became the fifth goaltender in seven years to lead the NHL with an average of under 2 goals per game.

* And yet . . . Of the Canadiens' three losses, two have come in games in which they led after two periods. They were ahead of the Rangers 1-0 at home on Oct. 5 and lost 2-1 in overtime, then saw Buffalo score three times in the third period on Oct. 18 to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 victory. Last season, the Canadiens were 28-0-1 when leading after two periods.

They are good at keeping earlier leads though: The Canadiens were 11-0-1 when leading after one period.

* The New York Rangers are shooting down one of the chief criticisms of their play in the past couple of years -- an over-reliance on special teams, particularly the power play. New York was 6-0-0 when held without a power-play goal until losing ** 4-1 to Montreal on Wednesday night and going 0-for-7 with the man advantage.