Montreal Canadiens' 5 Biggest Questions Ahead of the Olympic Break
The Habs are currently hanging on to a playoff spot as they sit four points ahead of the ninth-place Philadelphia Flyers. An appearance in the postseason is far from guaranteed.
There are many questions surrounding the incredibly inconsistent Canadiens. Some are from an individual standpoint, while others are team-based queries.
Here are the five biggest questions facing the Montreal Canadiens ahead of the Olympic break.
Who Can Deliver Secondary Scoring?
Aside from its top line of David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher, the Montreal Canadiens offer little in the form of sustained offense.
It desperately needs another line to step up and score more often. But where will that secondary scoring come from?
Daniel Briere has been showing signs of life recently, with two goals in his past three games. In fact, he is now second on the Canadiens with 0.92 goals per 60 minutes of ice time (Pacioretty is first with 1.32). Perhaps he's finally heating up.
Alex Galchenyuk will be back after the Olympic break. This is good news because, whether Michel Therrien knows it or not, the Habs desperately miss his puck-control abilities.
The bottom-three lines struggle every game to skate the puck into the offensive zone, something Galchenyuk does quite well. A little more puck possession should lead to more offense. Maybe Galchenyuk will help spark the second or third line upon his return.
Or will it be a trade that finally gets another line going? Marc Bergevin will surely make a move or two (other than acquiring Dale Weise) before the March 5 deadline that will shake up the forward depth chart.
At this point, it doesn't matter who provides the offensive help in Montreal, but it needs to come soon. Secondary scoring will be key for its stretch-run success.
Is Nathan Beaulieu Ready?
The Montreal Canadiens have been patiently waiting for Nathan Beaulieu to be ready to jump into a top-six role on defense, and that day may have finally arrived.
Since his most recent call-up on January 18, the 21-year-old has appeared in eight games and looks every bit an NHL defenseman. Statistically, he has been held pointless and has a plus/minus rating of even, but numbers don't always tell the story.
Beaulieu hasn't looked out of place on Montreal's third pairing with Douglas Murray. He is playing solid defense, making good breakout passes and jumping into the offensive rush at the right time. He is gaining confidence each night.
His arrival has come at the right time. Montreal had a huge hole to fill on the back end with Raphael Diaz and Francis Bouillon playing so poorly.
Now, his ability to keep playing at an NHL level will be crucial to the Canadiens' late-season success.
How Far Can Carey Price Carry the Canadiens?
The Montreal Canadiens are not a great hockey team. They are merely average. But they do have a great goaltender, one who could carry them into the playoffs and perhaps past the first round.
Carey Price is having a career year. He has a 2.42 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage. His 23-17-5 record isn't even close to an indication of how well he has played.
Price is the only reason the Habs are still in a playoff spot. Their 29-21-6 record would probably look more like 21-29-6 if it wasn't for him.
The 26-year-old is proving that he does indeed have the ability to carry a team on his back. How far remains to be seen.
What Trades Will the Canadiens Make?
Weise, a 6'2", 210-pound winger has 10 career goals in 162 games. He should provide a physical presence but isn't going to help Montreal with its scoring woes. That means Montreal probably isn't done dealing before March 5.
Bergevin has some tough decisions to make over the next month. Will he buy or sell? A combination of the two would seem to be the right thing to do.
Montreal has two big-name unrestricted free agents with Brian Gionta and Andrei Markov. Bergevin needs to decide now whether he wants to re-sign the veterans or move them for an asset before they walk away in the summer.
Prediction—the Canadiens get Markov to sign an extension, but they move their captain before March 5.
Gionta certainly won't be re-signed in the summer. He's 35 years old and making $5 million this season. They desperately need more size up front, and his 5'7" frame isn't helping. Bergevin will look to move him to a contender looking for a third-line forward.
As for buying, Bergevin will be asking around to who is available. He won't be looking for a rental, but if the right opportunity presents itself to upgrade his offense, he might pull the trigger.
Is Montreal a Playoff Team?
A lot has changed in Montreal over the past two months. A playoff berth was a sure bet a few weeks ago. Not anymore.
Since having their 10-game win streak snapped by the Los Angeles Kings back on December 10, the Canadiens have gone from contending for the division title to fighting for a playoff spot.
Montreal has 64 points through 56 games played. As of February 4, the Canadiens are the top wild-card seed in the Eastern Conference. But they are only four points ahead of the ninth-place Philadelphia Flyers.
So are the Montreal Canadiens really a playoff team? They are—but barely.
Montreal's slide down the standings over the past couple of weeks has been a result of the team playing its worst hockey while Toronto plays its best. Neither will last.
Montreal will right the ship and start winning a little more regularly. Toronto will cool off and get back to being average. The end result will be Montreal finishing ahead of Toronto for third place in the Atlantic Division and an automatic playoff berth.
This isn't to say that Montreal will go on a long playoff run. A lot needs to change for that to happen. But Montreal is a playoff team, and it has the weak competition of the Eastern Conference to thank for that.