The Montreal Canadiens enjoyed a wonderful regular season in 2014-2015, pulling off a 50-22-10 record to lead the Atlantic Division. They were second in the Eastern Conference, three points behind the New York Rangers. They scored 214 goals and allowed a meagre 184 goals, making them the stingiest team in the National Hockey League.
This is due in large part to general manager Marc Bergevin finally having put his stamp on the Habs. Hired in May of 2012, the GM can boast that more than half of the team’s current roster has arrived under his watchful eye. And he can also boast Carey Price, who has been the biggest key to victory on the Canadiens by far.
In fact, Price is so integral to Montreal’s success that it’s hard to imagine them winning without him. The Canadiens allowed the 10th most shots on goal last season, even if they allowed the fewest goals. Price led the NHL in wins, goals against average and save percentage. He had nine shutouts and was the first Habs goalie since Jose Theodore to win the Vezina and Hart trophies in the same season.
The Habs are looking for more goals, plain and simple. There’s a lot of firepower up front, with Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk, and the newly acquired Alexander Semin leading the charge. Pacioretty rocked the house with 37 goals and a total of 67 points last season. He’ll continue to be the linchpin of the Habs’ offence.
Plekanec had 60 points in 82 games, finishing with 26 goals – seven of which came on the power play. And Galchenyuk proved a flexible forward, with coach Michel Therrien slotting him between Pacioretty and Gallagher for a dozen games in December. During that time period, Pacioretty put together 13 points and Gallagher had seven.
The trouble is on the power play. The Habs were 23rd overall on the man advantage and they scored just twice with 36 opportunities in the post-season. Without question, the Canadiens look like they should be able to get the job done. Throw Semin in the mix along with forward Zack Kassian and you’ve got more options. But being good on paper is different than being good on the ice, so the Canadiens will have some work to do in practice in order to get the power play kicking.
Any team that boasts P.K. Subban on their defence is going to win some hockey games. Period. The 26-year-old is arguably the best blueliner playing today. He posted 60 points last season, with 15 goals. Eight of them came on the power play and five of them were game-winners. He averaged 26:12 in the regular season and kicked that up by more than 30 seconds a game for the post-season. He’ll quarterback the daylights out of the power play and initiates contact.
Having Jeff Petry ready to go is a plus. He had 22 points in 78 games, joining the Habs from the Edmonton Oilers. He’s a great skater and can play well in his own end. Andrei Markov continues to be a factor as well. He posted 50 points in 81 games, including a whopping 40 assists. He was everywhere on the ice and can handle the pressure, averaging nearly 25 minutes of ice time a game.
With either Alexei Emelin or Tom Gilbert to round out the top four, the Canadiens have an impressive core group on the blueline. Emelin is an immense hitter and he’ll paste opponents in open ice, while Gilbert plays a very mobile game and moves the puck out of trouble. 22-year-old Strathroy native Nathan Beaulieu is another option. He’s another exceptional skater and he could benefit from more ice time.
This is a no-brainer. Price is one of the best goalies in the NHL. He posted a 1.96 goals against average and a .933 save percentage last season, facing 1,935 shots in 66 games. He won 44 of those games, by the way. No big deal. Price is a franchise goalie and he’s one of the most technically sound netminders playing the game today. He’s never rattled. And he’s arguably in his prime.
Dustin Tokarski is slated as the backup. The 25-year-old from Watson, Saskatchewan, is a positional goalie who knows where he is at all times. He had six wins in 17 games, with a 2.75 goals against average and a .910 save percentage. The book on him suggests a weak-ish blocker side, but there’s room for improvement.
Jacob de la Rose has to be in the conversation. The 20-year-old Swedish centre skated in 33 regular season games and looks to be earning the trust of Therrien, which is not the easiest thing to do. He served as Sweden’s captain in the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championships and plays a sturdy two-way game, plus he impressed as a call-up when Lars Eller was injured.
Greg Pateryn, snagged in a trade with the Maple Leafs way back in 2008, may be ready to see time on the main roster. He’s already 25 and development has taken a while, but Pateryn plays accountable defensive hockey in his own end. He can struggle when he has the biscuit, though, and that may be keeping him from earning a more permanent roster spot.
The Path Ahead
Yes, it could be argued that the Habs are all about Carey Price. That could be construed as a weakness, but there should be enough juice in the engine to warm things up offensively. The Canadiens will have to upgrade their fortunes on the power play if they want to push their luck further in the playoffs, plus they’ll need more goals from the likes of Semin and Gallagher.
This is a sound hockey team, though. They’ve got depth at all positions and can win every game every night. It’s a matter of putting the parts together and making a go of it, which is exactly what coach Therrien is gearing for. This should be a very, very good year for Montreal.