By Matthew Skolnikoff
So here we go again! Another season of NHL hockey, this year featuring 40% fewer games. The Habs have gotten off to a mixed start – one craptacular game against the Leafs and two spectacular games (one against the Panthers and one against the Caps). We’ve already seen them at their worst and their best. Last season was one I think we’d all like to forget so it’s no wonder many Habs fans are a little skeptical and worried about this year.
There have been a few changes from last year and there are some obvious strengths so I’m going to try to remain upbeat unless proven otherwise.
The biggest changes and strengths include:
1. New Coach, Michel Therrien. But he was the Habs’ coach 10 years ago as well and I didn’t think too much of him then. Maybe he’s picked up some new tricks while bouncing around the NHL for the last 10 years. We can only hope. Look for a more aggressive, I mean assertive, team under his direction. And more lively interaction with the refs and press.
2. Markov is back. And how. Two of his beautiful bullets scored goals in the Panthers game, one in the Caps game, and strong defence in all 3 games has heralded his return. A great addition to the special teams. He also seems to be fitting right back into his leadership role of protecting the net: Montreal defence is back!
3. The team has beefed up considerably with the addition of Prust to the lineup. Last year was sorely lacking muscle and enforcement so he can only help. Montreal’s legendary speed combined with a little more aggressiveness may be just the ticket. By that I don’t, however, mean the Habs have to sink to the level of thuggishness the Bruins are known for in order to be more competitive.
4. The Habs have acquired an 18 year old wonder boy, Alex Galchenyuk, who has already had a decent amount of ice time and scored his first NHL goal in game 2. I’m thinking this guy will be modestly helpful at first and then blossom later on. Kind of like Patrice Bergeron did, even though Patrice went over to the dark side. Brendan Gallagher is also a new, young addition and we’re anticipating great things from him. Eventually.
5. PK Subban has not been re-signed and rumours as of tonight are that he is going to be traded. I’ve always liked the guy’s personality but he’s been inconsistent on the ice. Another player who has great potential but it’s not quite there yet. If a trade does happen we can only hope it’s for someone better to help make a solid wall of defence with Markov.
6. The Canadiens are playing like a team. Everyone’s getting a chance to score a goal – Plekanec, Markov, Gionta, and Gorges all scored a goal each just in the Caps game. Add in the other goals from other players so far this season and at this rate even the weaker members will get a chance at glory. My bet is Bourque will be next.
7. The best thing about the team is obvious: Carey Price. I definitely see him being one of the top three NHL goaltenders this season and the main reason the Canadiens have any chance of sliding into the playoffs. He’s got the speed, skill, flexibility, and range of moves that pretty consistently stymies all those hot shot players, many of the best in the world, on other teams. He’s got legs, he knows how to use them. So far, out of three games, no even-strength goals have been scored against Price. If he were to get injured we have a decent backup in Budaj but that would make a lot of Habs fans apprehensive.
Next: PredictionsSo my prediction… I think the Habs will get back into the playoffs like they usually do (see – I’ve already forgotten last year!) but, sadly, not go all the way. I don’t see the Leafs or the Bruins getting the Cup this year either so at least there’s that. Montreal is due for a cup – tabarnac, it’s been 20 years – but it does not look likely this year.
I asked several fellow Habs bloggers what they thought about the team this year and I bring to you their exclusive comments and insight:
Rookie (@HabItHerWay), Montreal, who writes for www.AllHabs.Net and her blog at www.HabItHerWay.ca, said “I’m looking forward to having a physically tough team. I know it’s not necessarily what the Habs have built their reputation on, but considering that they’ll be playing the Bruins, Sabres, and Flyers quite a bit, it’ll be good to have some muscle. Ryan White is probably itching to let his fists (and hair) fly, Travis Moen is going to do what he does, and Brandon Prust has already embraced his role by fighting that no-good weasel Mike Brown. Plus, Max Pacioretty has packed on the muscle and doesn’t look like he’ll let anything get between him and another banner year.”
Rosalyn (@Tygerlylly), Nova Scotia, who writes for www.Habsaddict.com and her blog at www.tygerbythetail.com, told me: “Love their new faster tempo, forcing rivals to make mistakes and play to their speed. Not sure my heart can take it though, so maybe a good thing the season is shorter. Stupid penalties will hurt us in the standings if Therrien can’t stop it. They might scrape into the playoffs if they keep up the discipline, otherwise not likely.”
Laura (@theactivestick), Montreal, also contributed her thoughts. She writes for www.habseyesontheprize.com and has a blog at www.theactivestick.wordpress.com. “As much as I thought the Brandon Prust signing was too much money and too much term, I think it speaks to what the Habs were trying to do by signing him and Colby Armstrong, as well as keeping Ryan White and Travis Moen around. It’s all very “stop messing with us.” Not necessarily a bunch of enforcers, but rather a little bit of energy and toughness.”
Anyone interested in seeing the fireworks as a result of the re-energized and beefed up Habs in the four Habs-Bruins games this season? I know I am! Look for these four games to be some of the liveliest if not best of the year.
Next up: A dance with the Devil(s) on Sunday night. Look for a similar tempo and aggressiveness as the Habs try to keep it together, if only for the kids, and prove that this new combination of strategy and skill is not just a fluke. I’m expecting a closer match-up than in previous games. No matter what the outcome, you can laugh and cry along with Brian (@trot71) and me when we publish the transcript of our joint live coverage the day after – Monday evening – on Puckbuddys. Tables will be flipped, hair pulled, and sassiness of the likes hockey reporting has never seen will be on full display, sprinkled with sober professional analysis and unique insight.