5 Biggest Storylines for Montreal Canadiens' 2013-14 Season
Hockey is finally back.
The Habs will be looking to prove to the rest of the NHL that their Northeast Division championship in 2013 was no fluke. General manager Marc Bergevin made a few offseason moves in hopes of improving his squad. The core of the roster has mostly stayed intact, however.
As the preseason winds up and opening night approaches, the excitement is growing in Montreal. And that means there is always a Canadiens topic worth discussing.
Here are the five biggest storylines for the Montreal Canadiens' 2013-14 season.
Two rookies—Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk—played a big part in Montreal's 2013 success.
Gallagher, a fifth-round steal in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, was an instant fan favorite in Montreal. His hard-nosed style, mixed with some serious scoring talent, led to a runner-up finish for the Calder Trophy.
Meanwhile, the 19-year-old Galchenyuk found his game late in the season and finished with nine goals and 27 points.
The two had instant success in the NHL, but will they fall victim to the dreaded sophomore slump?
Coach Michel Therrien doesn't seem to think so.
The Canadiens bench boss had both youngsters skating on a line with center Lars Eller early in training camp. The Canadiens will certainly be leaning on the kids for offense if that line combination stays together into the regular season.
A down year for either will force the Canadiens management to look elsewhere for offense.
The Health of the Defense
After the Canadiens signed Douglas Murray in late August, their defensive depth seemed like the least of their worries.
Sure, Alexei Emelin is blossoming into a fine defender and his physical presence will be missed during the first third of the season. But the Canadiens still had seven veteran defenders on their roster, plus top prospects Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu waiting in the wings.
Then the preseason began and the injury bug bit.
In addition to Emelin, Davis Drewiske, Francis Bouillon and Murray are all on the injury report. Drewiske will be out for a month, while Bouillon and Murray are being called day-to-day (via Habs Eyes on the Prize).
It remains to be seen who will round out the top-six defensemen come opening night. Seeing as neither Bouillon nor Murray have resumed skating, there's a good chance it will be the 21-year-old Tinordi.
This feels like a story that has been seriously overplayed, but that's what happens when you tend goal in Montreal. It is possibly the most scrutinized position in all of professional sports.
By now, even the most casual of hockey fans know the story: Carey Price was bad last season, and he needs to be better. A lot better.
A 2.59 goals against average and a .905 save percentage simply aren't good enough in Montreal (or anywhere for that matter). Especially not when you were a fifth-overall pick who had backstopped his teams to the World Junior Championships and the Calder Cup before arriving in the NHL.
The pressure is on in Montreal.
The Canadiens hopes for success depend largely on Price this season. He needs to rebound in a big way.
It was obvious that Montreal was outmatched physically in last year's playoffs. General manager Marc Bergevin knows this and made his offseason moves accordingly.
He acquired enforcer George Parros from the Florida Panthers for Philippe Lefebvre and a seventh-round pick. He signed 6'3", 245 lbs defenseman Douglas Murray to a one-year contract. He also re-signed Ryan White, one of the more physical forwards on the roster.
But are these moves really going to make Montreal a tougher team?
Murray should help replace the physicality that will be missed during Alexei Emelin's absence, but the real problem last season was up front.
Both Parros and White will strictly be fourth-line forwards, meaning they're only likely to get a handful of minutes each game—assuming they even get into the lineup on a regular basis.
Montreal's top-nine forwards look remarkable similar to last season with just one change. Michael Ryder (6'0", 198 lbs) is gone and will be replaced by Danny Briere (5'9", 174 lbs). Granted, Ryder doesn't play much of a physical game, but adding Briere certainly won't stop opposing players from taking runs at the Canadiens forwards.
When White and Parros are in the lineup, their jobs will be to bring a physical aspect to Montreal's game. It remains to be seen if their presence on the fourth line will be effective in providing a little intimidation.
Brian Gionta and Danny Briere
Captain Brian Gionta and newly-acquired Daniel Briere will be counted on by the Montreal Canadiens to play top-six minutes in 2013-14. Both are past their prime, however, and it's fair to wonder how much each can contribute over the course of an 82-game season.
Both veterans have had recent injury issues.
A torn biceps muscle has ended each of Gionta's last two season prematurely. He has missed most of the preseason to date, but is expected to make his debut on September 26 and should be ready for opening night (via Habs Eyes on the Prize).
Briere has had two concussions and a broken wrist in the past 19 months. He hasn't played a full season since 2003-04.
Even when healthy, both have seen their point production dwindle over the past few seasons.
Gionta hasn't cracked the 50 point plateau since 2008-09. His highest point total over an 82-game season as a Canadien was 46 in 2010-11.
Briere is coming off his worst statistical season ever where he tallied just 16 points in 34 games with the Philadelphia Flyers.
In a perfect world, both players will stay out of the trainer's room and put up solid numbers for players in their mid-30s. Injuries or a lack of production could leave general manager Marc Bergevin scrambling for forward depth, however.