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Montreal Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov (79) and Detroit Red Wings left wing Johan Franzen (93) go after the puck in the first period at Joe Louis Arena.

Look, this wasn't supposed to happen, so anyone who claims to have predicted it is telling nose-stretchers.

Here are the somewhat shocking facts: This is mid-November, and the Montreal Canadiens are No. 1 overall in the NHL standings.

Various statistical measures suggest the Habs aren't as good as their point total indicates, and while it's true they've had more than their share of good luck, providence can't explain everything.

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Montreal has won six games in a row heading into Tuesday's home matchup with Eastern Conference heavyweight Pittsburgh, and was only really threatened in one of them – a tense 2-1 shootout victory with lowly Buffalo.

Oh, and it's their longest winning streak in more than four years.

Teams in the East typically must clear the 92-point bar to safely ensure a playoff spot; the Canadiens are nearly a third of the way there as they near the quarter mark of the season.

All this from a team that boasts an incompetent power play (well, until last week anyway), crummy possession statistics and a suspiciously low goal differential.

"Finding ways to squeak wins out is the sign of a good team," leading scorer Max Pacioretty told reporters after the Habs won their fourth game in six days in Detroit on Sunday.

Since the Canadiens were embarrassed in a pair of games to open the month, they have righted the ship.

The biggest difference? It's pretty simple: scoring. Pucks are flying into the net, 23 of them in their past six games.

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It's about a balanced attack – when the quick-footed Habs forward lines are all firing, they become nearly impossible to defend – which in turn has to do with form, tactics and a roster move or two.

Bringing 22-year-old Czech rookie Jiri Sekac in from a seven-game exile in the press box has been a boon to centre Lars Eller, as has the injection of direct play from Brandon Prust, whose slogan should be Much More Than a Tough Guy.

There's a school of thought that general manager Marc Bergevin forced coach Michel Therrien's hand on Sekac by waiving winger Rene Bourque (which is plausible). In turn, the swift-skating right winger has forced the opposition to alter its defensive plans to account for the Eller line.

It also helps that the Habs are getting scoring from bottom-six types such as Prust and Dale Weise, and that winger Brendan Gallagher emerged from a 10-game scoring funk; the little fellow is even banking shots into the net from his knees these days.

Skillful youngster Alex Galchenyuk is blossoming (third on the team in scoring with 13 points in 19 games) and centre Tomas Plekanec is clearly thriving in a more offensive role.

Meanwhile, ace faceoff-taker Manny Malhotra has taken nearly half the defensive zone draws in the past two weeks.

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Montreal is also an underrated defensive team. The Habs' goal differential of plus-8 is skewed by data outliers. They have given up a middle-of-the-pack 47 goals this year, but 18 of them came in three losses against Tampa, Chicago and Calgary; they've held opponents to three or fewer goals 15 times, and to the defensive gold standard of two or fewer on 10 occasions.

"We lost our structure a little bit on the [October] road trip out west, but I feel we've regained it in the Buffalo game and since then," Therrien said recently.

There is also evidence that last week's acquisition of 40-year-old defenceman Sergei Gonchar in exchange for checking winger Travis Moen has fixed what looked to be like a structurally teetering blueline.

Whether Gonchar can really play 18 or 19 minutes a night all season remains to be seen, but icing seven defencemen has allowed Therrien to manage his veterans' minutes and matchups, while still giving youngster Nathan Beaulieu enough ice time to be productive.

Gonchar's arrival has also acted as a defibrillator for the Habs' wheezing power play: In his first game, the Habs broke broke an 0-for-28 man-advantage string; in his second game, they scored three power-play goals.

The addition of Gonchar forced the separation of P.K. Subban from his regular power-play partner, Andrei Markov. Subban has responded with two goals and an assist in his past three games (he's fifth in scoring among the league's defencemen).

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It's not as if goaltender Carey Price has needed to wear a cape and hero leotard, either. The 27-year-old goalie hasn't been spectacular, but he is the picture of steady excellence of late – as he likes to say, making the save at the right moment (on a breakaway against Winnipeg, say, or a bang-bang shot from the slot against Boston) is more important than how many saves you make.

Pacioretty acknowledges the Habs aren't perfect – no trophies are awarded in November – but they are rolling. They face a stiff test this week against the Penguins, St. Louis Blues and Boston. Should they win two or more of those, it will be about more than luck.

Hockey3

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