Montreal Canadiens Jarred Tinordi (left) and Peter Budaj and Ottawa Senator Zack Smith watch as a puck gets directed at the Habs' net.
There’s no denying that things will be tougher for the 2013-14 Montreal Canadiens than they were this past season.
For starters, after an incredibly successful 2013 regular season, during which they won the Northeast Division and exceeded all expectations after finishing last in the conference the previous year, they will be unable to take anyone by surprise anymore.
Secondly, 2013 comprised just 48 games because of the lockout, with the Habs beginning to tailspin at the end. In 2013-14, they’ll be playing a full 82 games, meaning they’ll have to hold it together for much longer.
Finally, they’re welcoming new teams into their division in the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings. While the general consensus is the former two are pushovers, the Habs really haven’t had that much success against either (34-34-6 against Florida, 39-35-6 against Tampa). Detroit is, meanwhile, a perennial contender against whom the Habs will no doubt have their hands full.
All that being said, there is good news. Here are the top five reasons the Habs will be up to the challenge:
Montreal Canadien P.K. Subban with the Norris Memorial Trophy.
Interestingly enough, even though the Habs are considered to be a young, up-and-coming team and the Wings, well, not so much, analysis reveals a much different story.
It’s a shocking statistic, but looking at each roster, one can see the Habs do have a much greater advantage than just two-tenths of one year.
Sure, the Habs employed the services of 34-year-olds Brian Gionta and Andrei Markov as well as 37-year-old Francis Bouillon. But Norris Memorial Trophy-winning defenseman P.K. Subban? He’s just 24. First-line power forward Max Pacioretty? Ditto. Last year’s rookies Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk? Just 21 and 19, respectively.
Looking at Detroit’s core, namely Pavel Datsyuk (35), Henrik Zetterberg (33), Johan Franzen (33) and Niklas Kronwall (32), one can see just where the difference lies.
Detroit may be a good team, but like the new Die Hard films that, amazingly, just keep coming out, they’re pretty aged where it matters most; i.e., star Bruce Willis…and, judging by A Good Day to Die Hard, the franchise is clearly on its last legs.
Meanwhile, one can make the argument that the Habs most critical to their team’s success are just hitting their stride professionally and getting better by the year, and that includes sophomore general manager Marc Bergevin, who now has one year of experience and lessons learnt under his belt.
Considering the first-place Northeast Division finish last season, the Habs should find themselves at the very least battling it out to repeat this year, not because pride is on the line, but because they should just be that good.
Former Montreal Canadien Scott Gomez.
The Habs did get off to a pretty good start in 2012-13, including a 4-2 run right out of the gates without a certain notable defenseman in the lineup—not that Davis Drewiske really would have realistically pushed them over the top or anything, but every little bit helps, right?
Obviously, that’s actually in reference to Subban and couldn’t possibly apply to Drewiske for the simple reason that, uh, he’s not notable. But I digress.
Subban only joined the team in early February after holding out for the first few weeks of the season. Now, he may have only opted to sign when he did because:
a) He realized he was losing any leverage he had little by little with each passing day, or
b) He acknowledged that if he played well enough, he would get the rich payday he had been seeking, and that the $5.75 million over two years he was being offered in the meantime would certainly tide him over until then.
Whatever his reasoning, he obviously made the right decision to not sign a long-term deal.
Nevertheless, there’s little denying Subban had become a distraction, and while yes, the Habs were 4-2 without him in the lineup, their last game before his return was a 5-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators. Their first game with him in the lineup? A 6-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
Clearly Montreal is better with Subban than without. The same of course can’t necessarily be said for Scott Gomez, whom the team bought out just prior to the start of last season. Ditto for Tomas Kaberle, whom the team bought out this past June.
Without those contracts and their pending buyouts looming over the team, the Habs are free to actually focus on hockey come September, which will be another nice change of pace.
With the lockout done and buried going on seven months now, teams and players are free to go about business as usual, almost as if it never even happened at all. Just ask the Winnipeg Jets and Zach Bogosian.
Add in an honest-to-God training camp and the Habs should be good to go. Now that may admittedly apply to all teams, but, technically speaking, the Habs will still be better conditioned and prepared for whatever newer, shinier distractions are sure to come along.
Montreal Canadien George Parros (right) and New York Islander Casey Cizikas.
Enforcer George Parros gives the Habs something they haven’t had for years, and not just someone watching their backs.
More significantly, they’re gaining a sense of freedom to go about their business without fear of cheap shots, liberties taken against them and, of course, ridicule for being a bunch of midgets dressed up like smurfs (not that they are, of course).
That’s because Parros, at 6’5”, 228 pounds, is no midget. He’s a legitimate heavyweight who isn’t afraid to drop the gloves should a situation call for it, and as a result create extra space for all of Montreal’s smaller, skilled forwards (meaning pretty much everyone but Parros).
Additionally, once voted the fourth-smartest professional athlete, Parros should be able to keep the stupid (minor) penalties to a minimum, thereby serving as an excellent example for teammates—and by teammates I obviously mean linemates, and by linemates I obviously mean Ryan White.
Current Montreal Canadien Daniel Briere (right) celebrates with former teammates Luke Schenn (left) and Maxime Talbot.
Despite scoring over three goals per game during the regular season, the Habs fired blanks in the first round of the playoffs against the Ottawa Senators to the point of not even averaging two in the five-game series.
What’s perhaps even more of a frightening stat is that they were never able to score in more than a single period in any one game of that series.
It wasn’t for lack of trying, though, as the Habs even set a team playoff record by firing 50 shots at Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson in Game 1. Unfortunately, just two pucks got past him in what ended up a 4-2 victory for the Senators. In fact, Montreal outshot Ottawa in four of the five games, but still ironically lost the series by that same count.
Assuming the Habs make the playoffs and recent acquisition Daniel Briere is healthy, the former Philadelphia Flyer should help matters out a great deal. With 109 points in 108 playoff games, Briere has a 1.009 points-per-game average, which places him just below Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Claude Giroux, Martin St. Louis and Alexander Ovechkin among active players.
He’s also just above future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr in that category (.985), providing fans with apparently the one reason why Bergevin signed the former instead.
While the outgoing Michael Ryder has actually proven to be more reliable than Briere during the regular season over the last two years (over 30 more points), it isn’t even close come the playoffs.
Ryder has just 45 points in 75 postseason games. More significantly in regard to this specific article? He had just two points last spring. That’s actually a good postseason for him with the Habs, as in four playoffs with Montreal he has just 10 in 26 games.
Briere, conversely, may just be what the doctor ordered to get the Habs over the top in the playoffs. Of course, considering he’s yet another forward below 6' tall, a ladder may be called for as well.
Ottawa Senator Mika Zibanejad (right) celebrates a goal against Montreal Canadien Carey Price.
Having served as the Chicago Blackhawks’ goaltending coach since 2005-06, Stephane Waite has worked with a lot of different goalies.
They include, just to name a few: Stanley Cup winner Antti Niemi, Stanley Cup winner Corey Crawford, current Ottawa Senator Craig Anderson…and, well, former Senator Patrick Lalime (some just can’t be helped).
In any case, the two Blackhawks Stanley Cups in four seasons are impressive credentials and good reason for Habs fans to hope a league-leading 25th one for Montreal is around the corner. That’s because none of the goalies mentioned above had nearly as much talent to start with as Carey Price.
Despite his pedigree (fifth overall pick in 2005) and impressive 2010-11 season, few can deny Price has taken a few steps back in his development in recent years.
He finished below .500 in 2011-12 playing behind a bad, last-place team, and was just plain bad himself this past season down the stretch with the rest of the team when it mattered most. This, in part, prompted general manager Marc Bergevin to fire former goalie coach Pierre Groulx and reach out to Waite.
No one’s expecting Waite to work miracles, just get Price back on track to where he by all accounts should be. If he succeeds, a team that may not have needed Price to be great for most of last season will be that much greater overall next season.