Season Preview: Montreal Canadiens
Canada’s sole representative in last years play-offs, Montreal might be the only flag bearer for hockey’s homeland again this season.
Whilst others undergo journeys of self discovery or rebuilds; Montreal seem to have found their groove over the past two seasons.
With one of the best goaltenders in the world, and perhaps the most dynamic D man in the game today, Les Habitants have the back bone to be a perennial play-off team for years to come.
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Max Pacioretty lit the lamp an impressive 39 times last season, but Montreal scored the fewest goals of any play-off qualifier in the East.
Thomas Vanek was little more than a play-off rental, as he departed for Minnesota – leaving Montreal searching for some dependable secondary scoring again.
Veteran centre Tomas Plekanec was the only other player to reach 20 goals last term, and David Desharnais was the only other forward to score 50 points.
Despite some speed in the top 6, and some grit among the bottom 6 courtesy of veterans like Travis Moen and Brandon Prust, Montreal needs more from players like Rene Bourque. The former Calgary winger had just 9 goals during the regular season – but found form in the play-offs, scoring 8 goals in 17 games.
20-year old Alex Galchenyuk will be looking to rebound from an injury interrupted sophmore season, whilst the Habs will also be looking for more from Lars Eller and further improvement from energetic winger Brendan Gallagher.
Experienced hands Brian Gionta and Danny Briere have both moved on, but Montreal did acquire PA Parenteau from Colorado in exchange for the former Sabres and Flyers forward. Parenteau is a Quebec native and capable of 20 goals and 50+ points – which should make him a hit with the clubs passionate fan base.
Ultimately Montreal needs its forwards to be more than just ‘respectable’ if they are to make serious progress though.
At The Back
In PK Subban, Montreal has one of the most exciting and talented players in the game today.
The ‘bridge contract’ the 25-year old signed in 2013 was followed by a Norris Trophy and then a career best 53 point effort last year. A new eight year contract came this summer, as Montreal seemed to finally embrace the blue liner as the corner stone of the teams defence.
Veteran Andrei Markov was also signed to an extension, with the franchise tying up their long time powerplay quarterback to a new 3-year deal, but Josh Gorges was dealt to Buffalo. Gorges departure does create space for Jarred Tinordi and/or Nathan Beaulieu to stake a claim at camp though, building on the handful of games they played last season.
With Alexei Emelin now an established member of the D core as well, it leaves the Habs with an effective unit heading in to the new season.
Between The Pipes
Carey Price banished any lingering questions about his big game credentials last season, back stopping Team Canada to gold in Sochi.
The British Columbia native is one of the top netminders in the game today, ensuring Montreal has a chance every night. Now in to his prime, Price is the kind of netminder who can carry a team for a stretch, and as a result Montreal’s defensive game has become one of the more effective in the Conference.
Backup Peter Budaj enters the final year of his present deal, perhaps paving the way for Dustin Tokarski to take on a bigger role with the team.
Behind The Bench
During his second stint with the club, Michel Therrien has guided Montreal to a Divisional title and the Conference Finals. He became the highest paid coach in franchise history this summer, when GM Marc Bergevin signed him to a 4-year extension.
A Quebec native, Therrien helped put Pittsburgh on the path to glory during his tenure there; and though he has apparently clashed with stars like Subban, the Canadiens return to prominence under him cannot be ignored.
Biggest Addition – PA Parenteau
On a team that struggled to score, the addition of 6’0″ winger Parenteau adds a little more size to the clubs top 6 as well as some much needed extra scoring.
Biggest Loss – Thomas Vanek
Vanek’s stay in ‘la belle province’ may have been short, but 6 goals and 15 points in 18 games (plus another 5 goals and 10 points in the post season) showed flashes of what the Austrian can do.
His play-off cold streak was not ideally timed, but that seems to be the nature of Vanek, and his departure leaves Montreal still searching for a second 30+ goal scorer.
Key Man – Carey Price
On a team still trying to figure a few things out offensively, an elite netminder is key to ensuring the franchise remains strong in its own end – and Price is that netminder.
His absence during the Conference Final was a hammer blow to the Habs after the 27-year old had such an outstanding season.
This Seasons Chances…
A top 3 finish in the Division is not out of the question. The Atlantic is not exactly a powerhouse right now, and the Habs seem to have the measure of their biggest Divisional rival, Boston.
Few would have tipped them to reach the Conference Final last year – but the club showed a knack for getting things done (as well as acting as the Bruins Kryptonite again).
Defensively they remain as solid as any in the East, but the club will likely live or die by their offence. They simply need to find a way to score more if they are to be a serious contender.