Biggest Takeaways from Montreal Canadiens' Start to the 2013-14 Season
The Montreal Canadiens are three games deep in the 2013-14 season. Their record stands at 1-2, following an easy win against the Philadelphia Flyers and two close losses to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames.
The Habs have shown some promise, and there are reasons for fans to be excited this season. They've also shown some weaknesses which they'll have to improve if they hope to contend in the Atlantic Division.
Here are the five biggest takeaways from the Montreal Canadiens' start to the 2013-14 season.
A New No. 1 Line?
The Lars Eller, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher line is one of the youngest in the NHL. It's also one of the hottest.
Led by the 24-year-old Eller's four goals in three games, the line has accounted for two-thirds of the Habs scoring so far this season. Gallagher has two goals and an assist, while Galchenyuk has five helpers. They're also a combined plus-10.
When they did play together last season, Michel Therrien used them as a clear-cut third line. They were relegated to strictly five-on-five play, receiving little ice time with the man advantage.
This year has been different.
The EGG line, as they've been dubbed, has forced Therrien's hand into more playing time by using its speed, skill and a little bit of grit to frustrate opponents.
Eller has used his size and speed to dominate puck control in the offensive zone. Galchenyuk has found open space and has used his quick release to create rebound opportunities. Gallagher has battled defenders in the corners and has driven hard to the net at every opportunity.
After a promising 2013 campaign, the Canadiens were hoping their young forwards would take a big step forward this year. So far, they've greatly exceeded expectations.
The Defense Needs to Be Better
The Montreal Canadiens were counting on having one of the league's deepest defensive corps this season. After signing Douglas Murray, they have eight veterans under contract, plus two top-prospects waiting for their chances.
Injuries have unfortunately depleted that depth, and it's shown through three games.
Last year's breakout blueliner Alexei Emelin is still recovering from knee surgery last season and will be out until at least November, per Habs Eyes on the Prize. Dave Stubbs reports that Davis Drewiske suffered a shoulder injury in the preseason and will be out for another couple of weeks. Murray suffered a lower-body injury on September 30 and will miss four to six weeks of action, as reported by TSN.ca.
The Canadiens have allowed seven goals in their two losses (four to Toronto, three to Calgary), yet very few have been Carey Price's fault. His defense has hung him out to dry on multiple occasions.
Thursday's loss in Calgary provided two great examples of this.
A bad pinch by P.K. Subban resulted in a Calgary two-on-one, and the two Flames forwards undressed Josh Gorges for the first goal of the game.
On the Flames second goal, Josh Gorges reversed the puck to Jarred Tinordi behind the net, who had no idea there was a Flames forward standing behind him. Jiri Hudler gave Tinordi a bump, stole the puck and sent it in front to a wide open Sven Baertschi.
The defense has simply not been good enough thus far in 2013-14. It is going to need to step up its game if the Canadiens hope for a big rebound season from goaltender Carey Price.
Where Is David Desharnais?
David Desharnais had a rough 2013 season, and unfortunately this year hasn't started much better.
The center of Montreal's top line (on paper) had just 28 points in 48 games last season and faced harsh criticism from fans and media alike all offseason.
Desharnais was likely hoping a strong start would silence those who said signing him to a 4-year, $14 million contract in March of 2013 was a mistake.
Things haven't exactly gone as planned.
The 27-year-old Quebec native has yet to register a single point and is a minus-1 through three games this year. He has been largely invisible on the ice and seems to be playing with no desire whatsoever.
Coach Therrien continues to give Desharnais chances—his 16:32 time on ice was the most among Canadiens centers against Calgary. He's going to have to be much better for the remainder of this Western road trip if he wants that to continue.
Was the Daniel Briere Signing a Mistake?
David Desharnais' slow start to the season can't all be his fault. After all, he does have to line up with two other forwards each shift. And one of those forwards has consistently been Danny Briere.
After the Canadiens signed Briere to a two-year, $8 million dollar deal in the summer, he could not stop talking about how excited he was to get the chance to play for his hometown team. Yet, his play so far in 2013-14 makes it look like he's still sulking over being bought out by the Philadelphia Flyers.
Following a decent preseason in which he, Desharnais and Max Pacioretty looked to have found instant chemistry, something hasn't clicked in the regular season. Perhaps Pacioretty's wrist injury has something to do with his line's lack of production. There's still no excuse, however, for Briere's complete lack of intensity through three games.
Briere seemed to simply be going through the motions in his first three games as a Canadien. After the excitement he had shown for signing in Montreal, one would think his play would reflect that enthusiasm.
There's no doubt Briere will play a big part in determining whether or not Montreal is successful this season. He'll have to be much better going forward if he hopes to have an impact in 2013-14.
Carey Price Looks Comfortable
The 2013-14 season is shaping up to be a make or break year in Carey Price's career.
The 26-year-old is a three-time NHL All-Star but had a miserable year in Montreal's net during the 2013 lockout campaign.
Canadiens fans have been somewhat patient with the talented youngster, but he's definitely under pressure to live up to his potential—starting now. Last season's 2.59 goals against average and .905 save percentage simply won't be acceptable.
He has allowed seven goals through three games this year, for a 2.70 GAA and a .907 save percentage. Yet, Price can hardly be faulted for at least four of those goals.
Two of the four goals he allowed against the Toronto Maple Leafs on opening night were passes that hit a body and bounced in. Chalk those up to tough luck.
In Calgary, Montreal's defense decided to completely abandon its goaltender on two occasions, both of which resulted in goals. Price, for his part, made a few great saves against the Flames to keep the Habs close.
Price has had a pretty good start to the new season. He looks calm and comfortable in the goal, which is when he's at his best. It's now up to his defense to step up with a little help.