Diaz a microcosm for high-flying Habs
Published Sunday, February 24, 2013 3:52PM EST
Last Updated Sunday, February 24, 2013 6:00PM EST
The high-flying Habs are the surprise of the NHL so far this season after a last-place finish last year, gaining points in seven straight games ahead of a two-game road trip that starts in Ottawa Monday.
One of the reasons for their success is defenceman Raphael Diaz, who impresses more and more each time out in his second season.
Diaz is a microcosm of the team: another player who is more experienced and more talented than he was last year.
“Last year I didn't know the league, I didn't know the players. This year (I know) the style of North American hockey. You know other players. It makes it easier for me,” the 27-year-old Swiss player explained.
Follow defenceman Josh Gorges said it’s his competitive nature that drives him.
“He's always been a heads up player, but the thing I like best is he is a competitor. That is something that gets overlooked with him. He's in there blocking shots, getting dirty, sticking his nose in. His skill level will do the rest but his willingness to compete makes him great,” said Gorges.
Diaz and Gorges have made a strong and steady partnership on the blue line this year.
Added to that is Diaz’s ability to succeed on the power play, meaning the Habs have a very valuable player that few are talking about.
“There's a good chemistry between those two, always in good position,” said head coach Michel Therrien. “They play against good players too. I really like the way they play.”
Diaz gives some of the credit to Gorges.
“Gorges helps me a lot and gives me good thoughts. Just play simple and support each other; that’s important as well,” he said.
In Switzerland, Diaz was arguably the best defenceman, with 29 points in 32 games and a + 19 rating playing for EV Vug in the European National League A.
“I did the best thing with the lockout, to go back home and play there. I played a lot of minutes. It was nice to play there and give me confidence. It takes some time to come back here and then get back into it with the small ice,” he said.
Gorges said he knows Diaz is going to improve even more.
“He's only going to continue to get better. He's in the prime of his career, so he's just starting to find himself. He makes my job easy, and that's a sign of a great defenceman when he makes his defensive partner's job look easy. Hopefully we’re getting better and gelling,” he said.
Washington Capitals' Mathieu Perreault and Montreal Canadiens' Raphael Diaz collide during first period NHL hockey action Saturday, February 4, 2012 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson