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With a 9-2-3 record, Montreal Canadiens backup goalie Mike Condon has filled in nicely for the injured all-star netminder.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Let's flip those dog-eared calendar pages all the way back to the 2009-10 NHL season.

It's the opening game, and the Montreal Canadiens lose the services of Andrei Markov, their No. 1 defenceman and best player, when young goalie Carey Price's skate slices into his foot at Air Canada Centre.

It would open a miserable stretch of injury luck for the Russian, and his absences over most of the next three seasons would prove the press box adage: no Markov, no chance. The Habs would play to a .390 winning percentage without him.

He's been surprisingly durable since then, but, at the age of 36, Markov is perhaps his team's fourth or fifth best player.

The top distinction now belongs to Price.

Injuries to the NHL's reigning MVP squelched Montreal's playoff hopes in 2013 and 2014. Since the beginning of the 2013-14 season, the Habs have won fewer than half the 35 games he hasn't started (they won 62 per cent of those he did).

Price has become more or less indispensable.

Until this year.

In early October, centre Tomas Plekanec – noted speaker of truths in the Habs' room – grumped that the team was about more than its brilliant goalie.

The evidence to that point suggested otherwise, but a few weeks later it seems a verifiable statement of fact.

Backup goalie Mike Condon has steered the team to a 9-2-3 mark.

With or without Price, this is a good team. How good? The Habs' 19 wins through 26 games is a better haul than the past two Stanley Cup-winning squads in 1986 and 1993.

In fact, reaching the 19-victory mark before Dec. 2 matches the vaunted 1976-77 squad, which featured nine future Hall of Famers and put together what is broadly considered the best season in NHL history (eight regular-season losses).

These Habs aren't those Habs.

But it's not an accident they dwell at the top of the standing: They are deep, skilled, fast and can count on top-grade specialty teams.

Even when playing poorly, as they did in the three games since squashing the New York Rangers 5-1 at Madison Square Garden – the game where Price re-injured his leg – they somehow collected five of six points.

Five years ago, the Habs would have cratered after losing players with the stature of Price and Brendan Gallagher – the team's best forward through the opening 20 games – now they can float above the water line in relative comfort.

"You have to learn how to [overcome injuries] in this league. If you don't you get left behind," said defenceman P.K. Subban, who had his playoff baptism in 2010.

How the Canadiens have managed to do that is a function of maturing players, organizational depth, playing style and outlook.

"You live for the opportunity to give it to the people who are doubting you. And people have been doubting us for a long time," defenceman Nathan Beaulieu said.

The stats are unambiguous about the team's reliance on Price in the past couple of seasons: they were consistently out-shot and out-chanced, they had trouble scoring goals consistently and played a low-risk-low-reward system.

But a strange and wondrous thing has happened this year.

Bolstered by an injection of speed and skill up front and on the blueline – via additions such as Tomas Fleischmann and Paul Byron, and the emergence of defencemen Beaulieu and Greg Pateryn – coach Michel Therrien has his team playing a pressing, harrying puck-possession game.

Montreal leads the league in goals scored, while continuing to play stifling defence (fifth fewest goals allowed).

Even the advanced metrics, which have long categorized the Habs as a bottom-third team with a world-beating goalie, show startling progress this season.

That Therrien has a steady supply of NHL-ready youngsters at his beck and call has helped.

Sven Andrighetto, a third-round pick from 2013, has filled in ably for Gallagher – who is out with broken fingers – and Christian Thomas, a 23-year-old winger acquired in a 2013 trade, hasn't looked out of place since coming up in place of the injured Alex Semin.

Rougher waters lie ahead for the Habs.

"There's still a lot of hockey to be played," Subban said.

The schedule over the next six weeks of Price's enforced absence contains obvious pitfalls: Washington on Thursday, a Western swing, games against Dallas, Pittsburgh and Tampa.

No one expects Condon to continue putting Price-esque win totals on the board, but then Montreal may not need him to.

An example comes to mind. Several years ago, the Habs won 17 of their first 26 games then coasted into the spring at just above .500.

Then their best player, a goalie who battled persistent hip problems for much of the season and started only 62 games, took it from there.

The year was 1993.