The Montreal Canadiens became the most talked-about team in the NHL postseason last year, and for good reason.
Thanks to the spectacular play of Jaroslav Halak during the playoffs, the most dominant regular-season team was dispatched of, followed by the defending Stanley Cup champions. It wasn't until the Conference Finals that the magic ran out, and the Philadelphia Flyers' momentum led them to a quick, five-game thrashing of the Habs.
That playoff run led to a few questions being asked about size and, specifically, goaltending. Many wondered whether Carey Price or Halak would be sticking in out in the bleu, blanc, et rouge. A pre-draft trade solved that conundrum, giving Price the starting goaltender's job.
It will take a dedicated effort from Price and the rest of the team to not only get back to where they were last year, but improve upon that standing. A few bold (or not so bold) predictions coming true along the way could certainly help as well:
1) Alex Auld plays 25 games
This is not a shot at Carey Price, but simply an observation that he's never played more than 52 games in a season across his three years in the NHL.
Montreal has an experienced backup behind him in Auld, who's played in a few different organizations and even has a 30-win season, and understands what it's like to play in high-pressure markets (Vancouver, Boston, Ottawa, and New York). Being the No. 1 there is already enough pressure on Price.
Why put more on him by making him start 65+?
2) Andrei Kostitsyn scores 20 and sets up 20 more
The trade of his brother Sergei may have helped Andrei more than we realize.
After all, if you and your brother are in the same place, but your brother is unhappy, no matter how happy you are, it's going to be a distraction and a detriment.
Now, Andrei is free of the distraction and can concentrate on playing hockey. A career-year is a little too much to ask, but he starts to rebound nicely.
3) Size isn't everything—Jared Tinordi doesn't make the team
One of the reasons floated by London papers (The London Knights are the OHL team Tinordi could be assigned to) have suggested that Tinordi could stick at the NHL level is his size.
The Canadiens' defense, though, isn't exactly small. Hall Gill and Ryan O'Byrne each top 6'5", while none of their defensemen officially fall under 200lbs. Montreal doesn't need to rush their towering prospect to the major-league level and risk injury following a career that hasn't been chock-full of extended seasons.
4) Andrei Markov creeps into the 50-point range
This isn't to say that Markov is guaranteed 50-point status, but he'll get awfully close.
He proved last year that he can bounce back from potentially crippling injuries, scoring 34 points in 45 games after coming back from a lacerated tendon in his left ankle. While coming back from ACL surgery is difficult, Markov has shown remarkable durability, and should have no problem running the offense once again, even if the start of his season is delayed.
5) Tomas Plekanec falls to 55
Plekanec's career has been a roller-coaster ride.
He'll go up in point production one year (69 or 70) and then down the next (47 or 39). While contract-year performances may be because of motivation, or may just be a coincidence, the job security may lull Plekanec a bit. The real reason though, is the lack of consistency he's shown throughout his career to replicate big years.
6) Scott Gomez scores 15 goals, but finishes with 70 points
Gomez is a pure passer—everyone knows that.
While he may not be that consistent 90-point threat, he does have the ability to make his linemates better, and his seven 45+ assist seasons are proof of that. Gomez hits 55 assists this year with the help of this man...
7) Mike Cammalleri scores 33
If you follow the trend, Cammalleri is due to break 30 this year.
He's gone back and forth each of the past five years, and with a year to get acclimatized in Montreal, he should be better than last year's 26-goal effort.
Adding in to his problems last year was probably the fact that he, Gomez, and Brian Gionta were all spending their first year in a new city. Being the new kid on the block only gets harder when there are two other new kids to get along with.
Now everyone is comfortable, and should be better.
8) Lars Eller becomes more than just "that guy they got for Halak"
When acquired from the St. Louis Blues, there were a few Canadiens fans who were unhappy with the return.
Some didn't know who Lars Eller was, while some just knew that he was a high draft pick of the Blues (13th overall in 2007) that hadn't made the jump yet. Know this, though: Eller is a talented prospect that will be known as more than just a "throw-in".
Look to him for a surprising rookie season.
9) P.K. Subban faces his first real challenge
Subban is an undeniable talent that comes from a strong athletic background.
In a few years, we could even be talking about the Subbans as one of hockey's next great families (Subban has a brother already in the OHL, and a brother and a cousin both entering their OHL draft years). He displayed awesome instincts in the AHL last year and proved that he was going to be a mainstay at the NHL level for the foreseeable future.
But is he in for a tough ride this year?
Many know that Subban is going to be a big part of the Canadiens' attack this year, so they'll be preparing for him. He's an early contender for the Calder based on his playoff play last year, and he hasn't been challenged since his first year in junior.
The thing is, there hasn't been a defenseman like him in some time.
Drew Doughty and Tyler Myers came straight from junior. Erik Johnson came straight from College.
While Jason Demers came to the NHL last year after a season in the AHL, he didn't (and no one has) have success in the minor leagues that Subban did. He'll be knocking on doors in the 40-point neighborhood (which is good—only three defensemen have done that since the lockout), but he won't flat-out dominate like many expect him to.
10) Montreal finishes above .500 against the West
Montreal was one of two teams last year to finish with a sub-.500 record against the Western Conference and still make the playoffs. The other was New Jersey.
With everyone on the roster feeling a little more comfortable and recognizing how important those points can be (They had very disappointing results against the Wild and Oilers, leading to a 7-9-2 record against the Northwest), the Canadiens assert themselves better against unfamiliar opponents.
The Stretch (remember, you're supposed to laugh): The Canadiens go through a losing streak and assign Dorf to re-teach the team hockey. He's so good, they sign him, giving them the shortest team (on average) in the NHL.
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