Montreal Canadien goalie Carey Price.
The 2013-14 NHL schedule has just been released, with it coming all the usual, perhaps unrealistic, expectations of Montreal Canadiens fans. After a relatively successful season, during which they finished first in the Northeast Division, fans will be looking for the Habs to contend, at the very least, for a second straight division title.
With the league’s divisional realignment plan taking effect, it may not come easily, or even happen at all, but one thing is for certain: It will be fun watching how it all plays out.
Here is a breakdown of the Habs’ 2013-14 season, from the team's top must-see games to its projected finish:
Former Philadelphia Flyer Daniel Briere (left) with current Montreal Canadien teammates Josh Gorges and Carey Price.
October 5, 2013 vs. Philadelphia Flyers: On the eve of Daniel Briere’s 36th birthday, he will receive his former team gift-wrapped for him at the Bell Centre. The game may not end up with as much hype as the season opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs (October 1st), but it will give Briere the ideal stage to show just what he has to offer the Habs.
Should it come at the expense of the Flyers, a team that is responsible for eliminating the Habs twice in their past four postseason appearances (losses Briere contributed to), so be it.
January 24, 2013 at Detroit Red Wings: The Canadiens and Red Wings now find themselves in the same division (and conference) for the first time since the Habs left the Norris in 1981.
It’s probably just a weird coincidence that P.K. Subban just won the Norris Memorial Trophy and Detroit is just coming off its first season without seven-time Norris winner Nicklas Lidstrom, but it is a fact representative of the two directions the different franchises seem to be taking. Detroit just barely prolonged its 22-season playoff streak, while the Habs won the old Northeast Division, placing second overall in the Eastern Conference.
It remains to be seen, though, just how Detroit will cope in what is strongly considered to be the weaker conference, or, more accurately, how the Habs will against a perennial powerhouse in the Wings. As a result, be sure to catch this first game of the season between the two Original Six teams of what promises to be an intense renewed rivalry.
March 18, 2013 vs. Colorado Avalanche: While there’s a good chance Habs fans will be able to see 2013 first overall pick Nathan MacKinnon in this one (should he make the Avalanche out of training camp), all eyes will likely be on another rookie: head coach Patrick Roy in his return to Montreal.
This will be the second meeting between the two teams of the season but the first in Montreal, meaning added hype, fanfare and excitement all around. That the Habs will have a chance to lay a beating on what should still be a pretty inexperienced and weak Colorado team? Gravy.
Montreal Canadien Max Pacioretty (right) tries to score again Detroit Red Wing Jimmy Howard.
While at first glance the Habs seem to be gaining one tough divisional opponent in the Detroit Red Wings and two not-so-tough ones in the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning, looks can be deceiving.
Consider this, for example: The Habs have an all-time record of 34-34-6 against the lowly Panthers. While all-time records don’t mean all that much (the Habs are 304-230-96 against the Wings), time and again the Habs have taken both the Panthers and Lightning for granted, especially when on the road in the Sunshine State (combined road record of 35-36-8).
Perhaps regular meetings between each of them will translate into the Habs taking them more seriously. After all, both have either won a Stanley Cup or made a trip to the finals more recently than the Habs.
In any case, things definitely won’t be getting any easier for the Habs in what was arguably the league’s toughest division, with the Bruins, Leafs, Senators and Habs all making the playoffs in 2013.
Considering the new Metropolitan Division (the other one in the Eastern Conference) consists of the old Atlantic Division, plus the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets and the Washington Capitals (who benefited from playing in a weak division in past years), look for five teams in the Habs’ new division instead of just four to potentially make it this year.
Montreal Canadien David Desharnais (left) watches the play unfold in front of New Jersey Devil Martin Brodeur.
When the Devils, a team against whom the Habs have a record of 28-57-7 since 1990, are the weakest opponents Montreal will face over a seven-game stretch early in 2014, you know points will be tough to come by throughout (and that it will include at least one really boring game).
Considering the stretch in question begins with a tilt against the defending Stanley Cup champions, it definitely doesn’t start off any easier.
While that may mean it will get easier with each passing day, it won’t be by much with road games against the new-rival Senators, old-rival Maple Leafs and contenders Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings. End it with a home game against Alexander Ovechkin and the high-flying Capitals just for good measure.
Additionally, that January 14 Devils game? It could be goalie Martin Brodeur’s final one in Montreal. So, it will probably be that much tougher for the Habs to pull one out, what with the added motivation for the league’s winningest goalie to get one last victory in his hometown and all.
Boston Bruin Patrice Bergeron and Montreal Canadien P.K. Subban.
Projected Eastern Conference Finish: Third-best record in the Eastern Conference, behind the Boston Bruins (projected Atlantic Division winners) and Pittsburgh Penguins (projected Metropolitan Division winners).
When the 2013-14 season starts, Montreal will arguably be icing a better team than they did at the start of last year.
With time healing wounds, the Habs will also be a better team than the one that got shellacked 6-1 in their season-ending loss to the Ottawa Senators—and obviously not just because most of the bodies injured at the end of that series (Alexei Emelin, Brian Gionta, Brandon Prust, Carey Price, Lars Eller and Ryan White) should be back.
On purely a mental level, the team as a whole should be stronger by next October. If it is, look for the Habs to legitimately contend next season.
The fact of the matter is the Habs will be closer to—if not better than—the team that finished first in the Northeast Division last year than the one that finished last in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12.
Daniel Briere, like him or hate him, adds offensive depth to a team already overflowing with it. A defense led by Norris Memorial Trophy winner P.K. Subban, playing in a contract year no less, should recapture some of the magic lost when Emelin sustained a knee injury in early April.
Finally, if Price can get his game back to the point of playing even 90 percent as well as he did in 2010-11, the Habs will be stacked from top to bottom. Really, the Habs didn’t need him to be great this past season (and he wasn’t) and they still won the division. There’s little telling how great the team can be if he steals a few games here and there.
The new seeding system works slightly differently to the old one. Division champions will still be ranked one-two. However, they will each play one of two wild-card teams in the first round. Meanwhile, teams finishing second and third in each division will play each other.
As such, look for the Habs to battle it out with the Bruins for the top spot in the conference, ultimately fall just short against the Stanley Cup runners-up and potentially end up playing the Wings in the first round.
A lot can happen to change all that this coming season, but it will definitely be one worth watching no matter what, based on the Habs’ potential alone.