"When you say 'a team,' that is what Montreal is, a team," says Pierre Larouche. The 23-year-old Larouche, the only skater on the Montreal roster to play for another NHL team, is one of Bowman's "specialty players"—once a 53-goal scorer with the Pittsburgh Penguins but now a spare with the Canadiens. After the nucleus of stars—Lafleur, Dryden, Lemaire, Bob Gainey and defensemen Lapointe, Serge Savard and Larry Robinson—Bowman has put together a team of specialists. "We have a lot of players who are not excess-talent players," says Bowman. "But they work hard, and they are skilled at specialty situations. One of our strong points is that we can have a great goal scorer like Steve Shutt, and afford not to play him in certain situations. Conversely, I'm not going to play a Doug Jarvis that much when we're behind a couple of goals." Unless Bowman needs to win a face-off—Jarvis' specialty.
"As far as I'm concerned," says Dryden, "there is only one legitimate superstar on this team, and that's Lafleur. And even Lafleur needs the team. The rest of us are very good, yes, but the team is superior."
The team. Yes, this is a team. The Canadiens respect that. They see it as bigger than themselves. So a 53-goal scorer like Larouche sits on the bench and waits his chance, and the team is not decimated by a mass declaration of free-agentry. "On other teams, statistics are the big thing," says Dryden, whose own statistics—never mentioned—show him having the lowest lifetime goals-against average of any goaltender in the last 30 years. "The only statistic that means anything here is wins and losses. If your statistics are great and we lose, you're still characterized as part of the problem."
The statistic Bowman is most proud of is that the Canadiens are perennially the least penalized team in hockey. Last year, for example, the team had 23 major penalties. Toronto's Tiger Williams had 35. With a lineup that includes giants like Lupien, Robinson, Rick Chartraw and Yvon Lambert, few teams even bother to attempt to intimidate the Canadiens anymore. The result is hockey—the sport, not the war. A skating, free-wheeling game on offense, a hustling body-checking game on defense. Quick crisp passes at both ends, with wingmen circling free. They do not just play to win; they play to be perfect, which is a nice thing to watch. The Montreal Canadiens could no more win a Stanley Cup in the manner of the old Broad Street Bullies than Manolete could have killed a bull with an ax.
Night after night, city after city, the Canadiens bring out the best in those teams that lie in wait for the champs. Even after the Blues absorbed their 6-0 drubbing, St. Louis announcer Dan Kelley lamented, "Why can't the Blues skate like that against the Rockies?" In Minnesota, the North Stars, hockey's worst team a year ago, took a 2-1 lead before succumbing 3-2 in front of their largest home crowd of the season. This bull did not die easily. It was a splendid game for both teams. When Montreal scored the winning goal with 13 minutes remaining, its bench emptied in celebration. Afterward, Doug Risebrough, who sat out the game with a shoulder injury, pointed to the ice packs on the knees of Lupien, Lambert and Mark Napier. "Look at them," he said. "They had to scratch and claw for this win. But tomorrow people will say, 'Who did they beat? The North Stars.' "
In trying to define the success of the Canadiens, Larouche says, "The other players on this team make you so hungry to wear the Canadiens' sweater, that once you do, you remember what it was like, and you don't ever want to take it off again."