The Preseason is underway and the Canadiens play their first exhibition against the Florida Panthers tomorrow night (Sept 17). My anticipation of the upcoming season is matched only by the curiosity that comes with the drastic changes that the team underwent in the off-season. Here are a few of the questions that keep rolling around in my mind.
1) How quickly will the team adapt to Jacques Martin's system?
If players have trouble fitting into the new system, which stresses defensive responsibility and puck control, then all the talent in the world isn't going to matter.
Martin's success in Ottawa shows the system works, but after three years of Carbonneau's ever-changing strategy, it might take some of the guys a little time.
The Canadiens have seven exhibition games in a little over a week, so if they fail to pull together by then, they may be in for rough start thanks to a difficult road-trip to open the season.
2) How much will Martin experiment with lines?
The preseason is for tweaking the lines, but the surplus of newcomers and Martin's inexperience with the players both old and new means he's starting at square one.
Martin has the difficult job of experimenting with the lines to see which combinations click, but at the same leaving guys together long enough to develop a little chemistry.
It's a difficult balance to find, so don't be surprised if there's less line juggling than many expect.
Scott Gomez will be centering Mike Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn against Florida, a combo that was used throughout the intra-squad scrimmages. Similarly, Martin has said he's really liked the combo of Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta, especially with Travis Moen riding shotgun. It'll be interesting to see if these lines stick.
3) Will one of the youth emerge and steal a spot?
Barring an outstanding showing, I don't see anybody moving on the blueline, with the exception of possibly O'Byrne jumping into the top six. PK Subban and Yannick Weber will likely be playing in Hamilton this year, if only because Montreal has seven defensemen on one-way contracts.
The real intrigue here, is who emerges from the forwards. Assuming Moen is used in the top nine, that leaves one spot open for either Sergei Kostitsyn, Matt D'Agostini, and Max Pacioretty.
Sergei has the edge in experience, and has talent through the roof if he could just put forth a consistent effort. Dags has speed and a great shot, but was horrible away from the puck last season. Patches is a big body with great hands and can absolutely fly. Expect a ferocious competition between these three.
The fourth line will also have some competition with Gregory Stewart and Kyle Chipchura trying to crack the lineup permanently.
4) Is Carey Price already the No. 1 goalie?
After a great start, Price collapsed in the second half of the season. Many argued that Halak should have been given the reins while others blame the complete collapse of the whole team and ex-goaltender coach Rollie Melanson for Price's lackluster play.
Either way, it was believed that with a new coach both goalies would enter the season competing for the starter job; however, in the past few weeks Martin's actions indicate that Price is in fact the undisputed No. 1.
Can Halak do enough in the preseason to prove he deserves a shot?
5) Who will be named Captain?
This is the most obvious question. Everything about the next captain has been argued endlessly all summer long.
Who is it going to be? When will they be named? Will they be appointed or voted on?
Well the last two questions have been answered. Martin and Gainey have said that they will make their selection at the end of camp. So we have the when and how, now all that remains is the who.
No matter who is selected, there's going to be plenty to discuss. It seems odd to hand the "C" to a new arrival, but with the exception of Andrei Markov and Roman Hamrlik, most of the returning players have been argued as too young to handle such responsibility.
Is it too soon to name a captain? This group has been together for all of about two weeks, why the urgency to have someone wearing the C before the season begins? The team seems to be overflowing with potential leaders, wouldn't it be better to let one emerge naturally a few months down the road?
Equally important, aside from Bob Gainey, the captain of the Montreal Canadiens has always been voted on by the players. Will an appointment by management cause resentment as it did for Gainey in the first years of his captaincy?
Well, the answers to all these questions will be answered shortly. All we can do is watch, and hope for the best.