Meaningless made-for-TV shinny weekend has arrived in the NHL, which provides a handy excuse to take stock of the Montreal Canadiens.
Through 45 games the Habs have racked up 61 points, meaning they can play sub-.500 hockey over their remaining 37 post-All-Star break games and still comfortably reach the typical Eastern Conference post-season cutoff of 93 points.
At the moment, however, they're on pace for a 111-point season, which would be their best finish since 1988-89 – a year where they would lose to Calgary in the Stanley Cup final.
Now, it would be a stunning achievement for this club to repeat that feat given the underlying statistics from the first half of the year.
Their goaltending, however, makes it at least a notional possibility.
In the main, the Habs are resolutely average offensively at even-strength, near-elite defensively and consistently inconsistent on the power-play.
Their advanced possession stats are – how to put this diplomatically – a raging dumpster fire.
Montreal is 20th in score-adjusted Fenwick (which measures all unblocked shot attempts and is considered a reliable predictor of future results) according to the website puckon.net, far and away the worst among Eastern Conference contenders (excluding the New York Rangers, who have more accomplished offensive players).
They also have the league's third-highest PDO, a crude approximation of so-called puck luck.
And yet, all they do is win.
"We do a really good job of boxing guys out and making teams shoot from the outside. We don't give up a whole lot of scoring chances, shots on net are cosmetic a lot of the time," said goaltender Carey Price, whose play is one of the main explanations behind the Habs' success.
He'd prefer not to take the credit – "we have a lot of talent on this team" – but that doesn't alter the facts.
Tuesday's game against the Nashville Predators provided a handy illustration of Price's importance to the team (which will earn him MVP votes should he maintain his current level of play).
The Preds peppered the Montreal net with 24 shots through the opening 30 minutes, the Habs replied with five.
But after a couple of power-plays, and some inspired play from defenceman P.K. Subban (who set up the first goal and scored the winner in overtime), Montreal claimed a win over a club that sits second overall in the NHL standings and is tabbed to make a long playoff run.
Price made 36 saves in the game, a dozen or so of them were spectacular.
Subban, who has righted the ship after a few wobbly games earlier in the month – head coach Michel Therrien, who seldom goes out of his way to praise the defenceman, said "he played like a true leader, he took charge" – laughed off a suggestion, made in jest, that the team will have a homework assignment during the break: write down 'we will stop relying on our goaltender' 100 times.
"At the end of the day, we're one of the top teams in the league. And I'm sure Pricey will tell you this, it doesn't take one player to be a top team . . . we need 22 guys. I wouldn't want all the pressure of being the guy who is supposed to take our team to the Stanley Cup, but you watch the Stanley Cup playoffs every year it's not about one or two players, it's about 22 guys," Subban said. "I've known him a long time, he just wants to do his job, and that's all we ask."
Some have suggested Subban (who now is tied for fifth in points among defencemen and is playing the toughest minutes on the team against opposing top lines) and top scorer Max Pacioretty are the difference between the Habs being a playoff team and also-ran; by that logic Price is the guy keeping them from swimming with the draft lottery fishes.
"I'm no goalie expert," said centre David Desharnais, "but it's completely nuts how good he is. Out of control."
After the Nashville game Price was asked whether he sometimes feels like a lawyer, given how often he steps before the cameras to defend his teammates' play.
"Well, my mom's a lawyer, so . . .," he smiled. "We're not going to play perfect every game, we're going to outplay a team 60 minutes every night, every team is competitive in this league and we understand that. As long as we can rope-a-dope a little bit when we're not playing well and stay in games, at least we give ourselves the opportunity to get that big goal, grab momentum."
Other goalies have carried the Habs on improbable playoff runs in the past, and if Carey Price isn't yet in the Patrick Roy stratosphere, his play over the last 18 months suggests there's no barrier to him getting there.
If Pacioretty was lamenting the Habs showing against Nashville and suggesting he didn't feel comfortable with winning in that fashion, Price merely considered the result.
"I don't care what it looks like, as long as it's a 'W'," said the 27-year-old, whose attitude may well be described as a coping mechanism given the ugliness of many of his team's 29 wins.
Price then paused and looked askance toward the other end of the dressing room, where Subban was rapping into a television camera and generally hamming it up.
"You come to expect that," he noted drily.
Asked if he's going to miss his high-energy teammate during the break – Price is, understandably, the Habs' representative at the All-Star Game in Columbus – he deadpanned "oh yeah, I'm going to miss him dearly."
Count being funny among the many luxuries Price can afford this year.