The Montreal Canadiens open their NHL season tonight, playing their longest standing rivals the Leafs in Toronto.
Both teams faced some serious challenges in the offseason; yet both teams seem to be entering the new season with many major issues still unresolved.
The biggest question mark in Montreal is in net. Will the young volatile Carey Price manage to charm the Montreal fans into "chilling"?
Probably not—he's not that charming.
He seems to have managed to start out with an attitude that took Patrick Roy two Stanley Cups and a decade in la belle Province to accumulate.
That said, Carey Price is a good goaltender with great potential. He is not responsible for how good Halak was or the deal that dumped Halak in St. Louis for prospects; he shouldn't be punished for that. Price is all there is in Montreal.
Unfortunately, a bout of the flu looks to keep Price out of the season opener. Alex Auld will get a chance to show what he can do as a backup and the question of whether Carey Price can carry the load in Montreal will be left unanswered for at least another game.
Playoff scoring star Mike Cammalleri will also miss the first game of the season because of an ill-considered slash of Islander rookie Nino Niederreiter. Cammalleri had what would have been considered a disappointing season last year, as injuries limited him to 65 games and 50 points. Luckily, he managed a point a game and 13 goals in 19 playoff games to save his season.
The sniper is expected to have closer to a point a game and 40 goals this year. His offense will be sorely needed.
Newly-minted captain Brian Gionta begins his term in Montreal. His 28 goals in 61 games are hopefully going to be improved upon. He, like Price, needs a quick start to keep Hab's fans happy.
The power play last year was among the most successful in the league; when the power play hasn't worked in the past few years, the Canadiens miss the playoffs.
The team needs its power play to score; with Andrei Markov starting the season injured and power play specialist Marc Andre Bergeron unsigned, the team is looking to rookie P.K. Subban, creaky veteran Jaroslav Spacek, and perhaps Mike Cammalleri to patrol the points until Markov is back.
The Habs were the worst five on five offensive team in the league last year. If they can't score on the power play, they don't score; if this group can't make it work, there's little cap room to bring in someone to resuscitate the PP.
Toronto is still facing a horde of their own issues as the season starts.
Management is desperate to finish high enough in the regular season to avoid giving up another lottery pick to the Boston Bruins.
They still need a first line center to help the winger they traded those draft picks for; the undrafted Tyler Bozak is being asked to fill this role, but mostly because the Leafs second choice would be Michael Grabovski—a top quality center to play with the Leaf's Kessel is and has been an unresolved issue ever since they traded for him.
The purported strength of the Leafs is defense and that should turn out to be the case.
They have a core of mean, hard hitting defenders who should be miserable to play against; against that back-drop, however, they've taken Tomas Kaberle's A away and he's no longer an assistant captain on the team.
Kaberle has maintained professional decorum throughout the Leafs attempts to trade him.
His offensive numbers were good again last year and will be good again this year as he fills that niche in Toronto.
Kaberle is in the last year of his contract with the Leafs and the fear has to be he'll sign elsewhere, with the Leafs getting nothing for the talented defenceman.
J.S. Giguere is being asked to stabilize the situation in the Leafs' net. If the veteran goalie returns to his form from the Anaheim days, he can help a team that was near the bottom of the league in goals against last year. He gets his first chance tonight.
The Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs are starting this season with many questions still unanswered; the process of answering those concerns begins tonight in Toronto.
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