The Ottawa Senators will surely cause problems for the Canadiens this season.
The Montreal Canadiens are the reigning Northeast Division champions. Defending that title is going to be a daunting task, especially since the Northeast Division doesn't actually exist anymore.
Under the new NHL alignment, the Canadiens now find themselves in the Atlantic Division along with seven other (somewhat) regional opponents:
- Boston Bruins
- Buffalo Sabres
- Detroit Red Wings
- Florida Panthers
- Ottawa Senators
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Toronto Maple Leafs
In the Eastern Conference (Atlantic Division and Metropolitan Division), each team will play 30 games within its division.
Here are the Atlantic Division teams who will give the Montreal Canadiens the most problems in 2013-14.
The Detroit Red Wings will provide new competition for the Canadiens.
The Detroit Red Wings are back in the Eastern Conference for the first time since 1974 (or 1981 if you considered the Wales Conference to be the Eastern Conference). And while fans are excited about more Original Six rivalry games, Eastern Conference coaches probably wish they had stayed in the West.
The only thing you need to know about the Detroit Red Wings is this: They have made the playoffs for 22 straight years. Yes, they have competed in the NHL postseason for more consecutive years than Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher have been alive.
A team that is consistently that good is bound to cause the Montreal Canadiens some problems next season.
Because they have been in different conferences for the past quarter-decade, there is not much recent history to look at between the two teams. They did not face each other in the abbreviated 2013 season. The Red Wings do, however, own a 4-2-0 record against the Habs since the 2005 lockout, as Ansar Khan of MLive.com points out.
Detroit finished seventh in the Western Conference last season with a 24-16-8 record. The team knocked off the Anaheim Ducks 4-3 in the first round of the playoffs before blowing a three-games-to-one lead and bowing out to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
The Red Wings roster looks quite similar to last season.
They are led up front by captain Henrik Zetterberg and sniper Pavel Datsyuk, while goalie Jimmy Howard is solid on the back end.
In are Daniel Alfredsson and Steven Weiss, while Damien Brunner, Carlo Colaiacovo and Ian White have moved on. Talented youngsters Gustav Nyquist and Danny Dekeyser will be looking to make a name for themselves at the NHL level next season.
The Detroit Red Wings are a very good hockey team that will push for a playoff spot next season. Having the Red Wings as a divisional opponent will make for some exciting yet tough hockey games as the two teams renew their Original Six rivalry.
The Toronto Maple Leafs won last year's season series against the Canadiens.
After years of futility, the Toronto Maple Leafs are a team on the rise.
The 2013 season saw them finish fifth in the Eastern Conference (third in the Northeast Division) and make the playoffs for the first time since 2003-04. Then they pushed the eventual Eastern Conference champions to the brink before that stunning Game 7 collapse.
Toronto also proved to be a tough opponent for Montreal last season, winning the season series 3-2.
The Leafs edged the Canadiens on opening night 2-1 before taking two blowout wins by scores of 6-0 and 5-1. The Habs wins came via 4-1 and 5-2 victories in Toronto.
Toronto seemed to win last season when it dominated the Habs physically, providing no space for Montreal's skilled forwards to move. Oppositely, on nights when the Canadiens were able to skate free, they made Toronto look like the team that missed the postseason for nine straight years.
The Maple Leafs did make some significant moves in the offseason to improve their club, namely the acquisitions of David Clarkson and Jonathan Bernier.
Clarkson will provide more skill and physicality up front. The 29-year-old Toronto native scored 15 goals and nine assists in 48 games last season with the New Jersey Devils.
Bernier, 25, will enter training camp in a battle with James Reimer to be the Leafs' starting goalie. The former top prospect has spent the past three seasons stuck behind the Los Angeles Kings star netminder Jonathan Quick.
Montreal also made offseason moves to improve its physical game, with the signings of enforcer George Parros and defenseman Douglas Murray. The physical game of the Leafs (and other teams) were likely on general manager Marc Bergevin's mind when he made those acquisitions.
Regardless of how the Maple Leafs' season finished in 2013, they did prove to the hockey world that they are indeed an improved team and are ready to take on the league's best. They should provide a good challenge to the Canadiens in 2013-14.
The Ottawa Senators easily beat the Canadiens in last year's NHL Playoffs
The Ottawa Senators are Montreal's closest geographical rival, and the intensity between the two teams should be at an all-time high after how last season ended.
The Senators finished the 2013 regular season with a 25-17-6 record and entered the postseason as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference before disposing of the Canadiens in five games. They dominated the Habs in every aspect of the game, and the Canadiens put up little resistance.
The regular-season meetings between the two clubs were a little more evenly matched. The Habs took both games at the Bell Centre by scores of 4-3 (in a shootout) and 2-1. The Sens defended their home ice with a 5-1 victory and a 2-1 shootout win.
The Senators offseason was defined by two major events: seeing captain Daniel Alfredsson walk away and acquiring high-scoring winger Bobby Ryan from the Anaheim Ducks.
Alfredsson's veteran presence as the face of the franchise will surely be missed in Canada's capital, but Ryan should ease the pain of Senators fans once he starts filling the back of the net with pucks.
Ryan, still just 26 years old, is a four-time 30-goal scorer at the NHL level (2008-12). Last season he netted 11 goals and 19 assists in 46 games. He should slide in on the right wing next to Jason Spezza with the potential to form a lethal top-line duo. The Sens will also have a healthy Erik Karlsson and Craig Anderson come opening night.
The Senators are a good, young team that will compete each night in the new Atlantic Division. Their dismantling of the Habs last spring will serve as a constant reminder as to what kind of team they can be.
The Boston Bruins are the defending Eastern Conference champions.
There is something about the Boston Bruins that brings out the best in the Montreal Canadiens. Yet that doesn't mean that the defending Eastern Conference champions won't cause the Habs any problems in 2013-14.
Montreal had a very successful 2013 versus the Bruins, taking three-out-of-four games and taking seven points in the process. Their head-to-head dominance last year was a deciding factor in the Canadiens finishing just a single point ahead of the Bruins in the final standings.
But last year's success means nothing going forward. The Bruins are a big, talented team with a roster that can compete with any in the NHL.
Boston will again be led by the usual suspects Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask. Twenty-year-old Dougie Hamilton will be looking to take the next step in becoming one of the best young defensemen in the league.
General manager Peter Chiarelli did make some notable moves this offseason that has the Bruins lineup looking a little different from that of last season.
Chiarelli finally grew tired of Tyler Seguin's partying antics (according to Stephen Harris of The Boston Herald) and shipped him and Rich Peverley off to Dallas for Loui Eriksson, Joe Morrow, Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser.
Eriksson, 28, will immediately jump into a top-six forward role. He has scored 150 career goals in 501 games and has a great all-around game. Morrow is a 20-year-old defenseman who immediately becomes the Bruins' top defensive prospect.
The Bruins also signed Jarome Iginla after watching Nathan Horton and Jaromir Jagr depart via free agency.
An argument can be made both ways as to whether Boston is a better team on paper this year compared to last. Either way, Boston is still a great hockey team and will definitely cause Montreal some problems next season.