5 Bold Predictions for Montreal Canadiens in 2nd Half of 2013-14 Season
All things considered, the Montreal Canadiens had a successful first half of the 2013-14 season. After 45 games, they sit in third in the Atlantic Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference with 55 points.
All but the most optimistic Habs fans would have been pleased if you had told them back in September that their team would be in this position as the season nears the Olympic break.
Can they continue their success in 2014? It's a possibility, but it's far from a certainty.
Here are five bold predictions for the Montreal Canadiens in the second half of the 2013-14 season.
Carey Price Is a Vezina Finalist
Carey Price is having a career year. In fact, he's the biggest reason the Canadiens are near the top of the Atlantic Division standings.
After Price's horrendous finish to the 2013 season, general manager Marc Bergevin reached out to former colleague Stephane Waite, and the move has paid dividends.
Price is near the top of the league in every major goaltending stat. His goals-against average is a nice 2.22, good for eighth in the league. More importantly, he ranks fifth in save percentage at .928 even though he has seen the third-most shots against in the entire NHL.
Montreal is a team that gets outshot almost two-thirds of the time, so good goaltending is the only way it can succeed. Price will need to continue at this pace for the rest of 2013-14.
If Montreal is able to reach the playoffs, it will likely be Price who carries the team there. That should be enough to earn him serious consideration for this season's Vezina Trophy.
Raphael Diaz Gets Traded
The Montreal Canadiens have all seven defensemen healthy, which has created a bit of a logjam on the back end.
Raphael Diaz, Alexei Emelin, Douglas Murray and Francis Bouillon have all been healthy scratches recently as Michel Therrien searches for the combinations that work best. And with prospects Nathan Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi and Greg Pateryn all playing well for Hamilton, it looks like a trade could be coming.
Diaz, Murray and Bouillon could all be on the trading block, as each is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at season's end.
But as Bleacher Report's Ryan Szporer points out, Diaz is most likely to go, as his trade value is the highest.
At 28, he is the youngest of the bunch, and he's considered a puck-moving defenseman. He could provide solid blue-line depth for a team looking to shore up its back end before the playoffs.
Diaz is currently having a hard time fitting in on the Canadiens. They already have two elite puck-moving defensemen in Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban and another waiting in the wings (Beaulieu). He should be easily replaced in Montreal.
Expect to see Diaz traded before the league's March 5 deadline.
Louis Leblanc Has a Second-Half Impact
After being relatively healthy for the past six weeks, the Montreal Canadiens all of a sudden find themselves with a rash of injuries up front.
Ryan White, the team's fourth-line center, is suffering from an upper-body injury that occurred on January 2 against Dallas.
George Parros remains sidelined with a concussion.
The Canadiens will be forced to call up someone from Hamilton, (They played their last game against Philadelphia with just 11 forwards.) There's a good chance it will be Louis Leblanc.
The former top prospect is having a good year in Hamilton. He's second in team scoring with 19 points in 32 games. He also played well for the big club when called upon earlier this season.
Montreal is constantly struggling to find offense and could use a spark. Leblanc needs to prove he can play at the NHL level.
The timing is right for Leblanc to contribute.
Rene Bourque Gets Traded
OK, so this might be actually more of a personal plea than it is a prediction: Rene Bourque has to go.
Montreal's big winger just doesn't get it. He has all the talent it takes to play in the NHL but possesses little drive or enthusiasm for the game.
As it stands, Bourque has six goals and one assist in 33 games. One assist in 33 games! Carey Price has two assists in 35 games!
The 32-year-old has just 60 shots on the year, meaning he's averaging just 1.8 shots per game. In fact, he went the entire month of December without registering more than two shots on goal in a game.
Yet Michel Therrien continues to allow Bourque on the ice. Over the past few weeks, he has regularly been given more ice time than Alex Galchenyuk (before the latter broke his hand).
It's time for Marc Bergevin to step in and send Bourque on his way. At least then Therrien won't have the option of giving Bourque the regular shift he hasn't earned.
The Canadiens Finish 2nd in the Atlantic Division
After 45 games, the Montreal Canadiens are 25-15-5. That gives them 55 points and has them placed third in the Atlantic Division.
The Habs are in a great position to not only make the playoffs but also secure home ice for at least the first round.
They are in their current position thanks to great goaltending and solid play from their special teams. They are winning games despite their poor play at even strength.
The Habs will need to improve their five-on-five play if they hope to finish second in their division. There is no doubting that. They will need more puck possession, and they will need to do a better job of winning the shot differential. But that seems somewhat realistic.
The good news is that at the halfway mark of the season, a first- or second-place finish in the Atlantic Division is completely within reach. With a strong second half, expect the Canadiens to finish just behind the Bruins.