TORONTO - Just because they're off to a hot start, don't think the Montreal Canadiens are a happy bunch.
The Habs have at least a point in all but two of their 12 games this year, but their captain believes they've got a long way to go to have any chance of living up to lofty pre-season predictions.
"Hopefully we're going to realize soon that if we want to be a top team, which everybody expects us to be, the way the game is played, it's not about who has the best offence," said Saku Koivu after Montreal's 6-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
"A lot of times it's about who's the most disciplined team, who's the best defensively."
The goals have been there, but even before being outshot 41-20 by Toronto, the Canadiens were playing far too loose, surrendering an average of roughly 30 shots a game.
Forget firewagon hockey, Koivu wants to see the Habs simplify their game.
"I don't think there's any doubts we can score two, three goals a period, but I think the question right now is to get back to gritty hockey and making simple plays, keeping it boring in a way and wait for the opportunities," he said. "Right now, I think we're forcing things, we're hoping the play is going to happen for us and that's just not the way it goes.
"I think for the first 10, 11 games, a lot of times - I don't know if it's just human nature - when you win, you forget your mistakes and you're hoping it buys time for yourself and for the team. But I don't think we've played as well as we can and should play for the last four or five games."
So does an embarrassing loss to an ancient rival go a long way in motivating a team?
"You know, we're fortunate to have the points we have right now and the wins, but I hope that this was a good learning experience, a good wake up call," Koivu said.
Evidence of the Canadiens' inconsistency can be seen in their 5-4 victory over the New York Islanders on Nov. 1. Montreal fell behind 4-1 before storming back to score four third-period goals and claim a wobbly win.
Last season, to the surprise of many, the Habs finished atop the Eastern Conference standings. If that's going to happen again in the team's centennial season, coach Guy Carbonneau said his charges better realize they will have to earn it.
"Last year, I think we had a lot to prove," Carbonneau said. "We came in with a good game plan and everybody followed it, everybody worked hard every game and we had success.
"I think this year, maybe we thought it was going to be a little easier because we have (so much talent) that we don't need to work to win games. We won some games that we didn't deserve to win, but those sometimes happen. It's just that, tonight, everything bad that had to happen did and it's a good lesson."