WASHINGTON – Few people would have predicted who would be leading the Habs in scoring after three games.
In addition to being the nicest guy you’ll probably ever meet, Rapahel Diaz can now also add being the highest-scoring defenseman in the NHL to the list of things people have to like about him. Tied with the Blues’ Kevin Shattenkirk with five points in three games, the Swiss-born defenseman is settling into his game and quickly stepping into the role of one of the Canadiens’ most solid blue-liners of 2012-13.
“He’s looking very comfortable out there during games,” praised Andrei Markov, who with another goal and an assist Thursday night is having a pretty good start to the season himself. Seeing Diaz in action, often alongside him on the power play, has helped Markov pick up three goals in the Habs’ past two tilts..
“He’s seeing the ice well, he’s moving the puck well and he’s always choosing the right position to be in whether he’s playing defensively or offensively,” added the veteran rearguard. “He’s a very good hockey player.”
Markov isn’t the only one who’s appreciating what Diaz is bringing to the Habs in their latest campaign. For a coach that puts a tremendous amount of stock in the work his players puts in, Diaz is giving Michel Therrien exactly what he’s looking for.
“He’s playing with a ton of confidence at the moment and his level of competition has been extremely high. He deserves everything he’s earning through his great work ethic and attitude,” expressed Therrien, following the Habs’ second 4-1 win in as many games. “Diaz is a young guy, only in his second season in the league, but he’s playing a big role with us right now. He learned a lot last year and now that he’s picking up points on the power play with Markov he’s starting to build his confidence from it.”
As confident as he might be, Diaz remained humble as ever after picking up assists on Tomas Plekanec’s opening power play marker and then Brian Gionta’s even-strength third goal. Offering up a helping of blocked shots to go along with Carey Price’s stellar play over the last two games is also proving that Diaz is playing well where it counts most – his own zone.
“Everyone is really supporting each other on the ice – whether we’re playing on offense or defense – everywhere on the ice. It’s a good feeling to play this way. When we’re in our zone, the forwards are always coming back to help us, and it makes things go a lot easier,” said Diaz who logged three block shots over 20:28 of play Thursday night in Washington. “Winning two games back-to-back like this is what we want to do. We know that we always have to be battling and playing our best hockey every time we hit the ice. We’re a team, and we’re all playing for each other right now – in every game in every situation. That’s how we’ll win games.”
Despite his personal success so far in 2012-13, Diaz’s focus is clearly all about the group, and with that approach to the game, more success is like to come his way.
“It’s a little funny to be on the top of the points column like that,” grinned Diaz. “It’s only three games but hopefully we can continue this. As long as the team is having success I’m happy.”
Justin Fragapane is a writer for canadiens.com.
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