Montreal Canadiens: Habs' Toughest Eastern Conference Matchups

Matt Dunn@MattDunn14Correspondent IJuly 18, 2012

Montreal Canadiens: Habs' Toughest Eastern Conference Matchups

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    The Montreal Canadiens suffered through a pretty brutal season last year. They finished with a record of 31-35-16, good enough for 78 points and last place in the Eastern Conference. They were 19th in goals per game, 20th in goals allowed per game and 28th in power-play percentage.

    Those numbers might be enough to convince some people that the Canadiens are a long way off from making it back to the playoffs.

    I say not so fast.

    They did end up second in the league in penalty killing, they were able to re-sign young goalie Carey Price and spent six of their seven draft picks on forwards. Once they are mixed in with key youngsters like P.K Subban on defense and Max Pacioretty, this team will climb the standings quickly.

    However, they will have to overcome some pretty talented teams to do so.

    The Habs will be playing five of their first seven games of next season against playoff teams from last year in Ottawa, Washington, Philadelphia and Boston twice. 

    Here's a look at who the Canadiens will be have to unseat if they want to make it back to the playoffs.

Boston Bruins

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    The Canadiens will be facing the Bruins twice in their first four games next season.

    Boston is no longer the defending Stanley Cup champion, but it certainly isn't a team to be forgotten.

    In six games last season, the Habs went 2-3-1 against the Bruins after starting off 2-0 against them. 

    The Bruins won't be coming into this season with any kind of Stanley Cup hangover, and following their first-round exit from the playoffs at the hands of the Washington Capitals, look for them to be hungry to try to get this season off on the right foot.

Ottawa Senators

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    While the Habs were able to go 4-0-2 against the Senators last season, Ottawa is coming off a season in which it was projected to finish at the bottom of the conference. Instead, the team fought hard, barely got into the playoffs and then took the No. 1 seed in the East to seven games.

    Don't be surprised if they too make a push into the top of the Eastern Conference next year.

    The Habs open up against the Senators at home on October 11, but then don't see them again until December 19 and then not again until February 3. That means they're going to be playing a tough divisional rival four times over the span of two months. That is, when the points are really going to start counting.

Pittsburgh Penguins

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    The Canadiens went a pedestrian 1-1-2 against Pittsburgh in 2011-12. 

    While the lasting image of last season's Penguins was that they seemed to give up touchdowns to the Flyers in every game in their first-round playoff series, that doesn't change the fact that this team finished the season with 108 points.

    They have the reigning Hart Trophy winner in Evgeni Malkin, a top player in Sidney Crosby and a supporting cast to rival any team.

    As I said, I expect the Habs to be a better team this year than last, but I don't know how they're going to handle Pittsburgh. I think the Penguins will be the top seed in the East next season.

Washington Capitals

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    The Habs went 0-3-1 against the Caps last season, and that was without a sure thing in goal. 

    Braden Holtby came out of nowhere in the playoffs last year to drive the Caps past the Bruins in the first round and almost past the Rangers in the second, when they took them to seven games.

    The Caps are also getting rid of Alexander Semin's monstrosity of a contract, so expect them to use that money to improve their supporting cast.

New Jersey Devils

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    This shouldn't come as a huge surprise, considering the Devils went on to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup finals, but the Canadiens went 1-3 against New Jersey last season.

    Yes, they lost Zach Parise, but with the money they were going to offer him, they are sure to start building up new younger players.

    Oh, and any team with Martin Brodeur in goal is going to be good.