Teams that win the first two games of their season usually aren’t left scrambling to find positives, but you’ve got to believe the Montreal Canadiens are desperately scanning for moral victories right now.
One game, one win, one of the best offensive defensemen in the league, Andrei Markov, shelved for four months with a sliced tendon. Game 2, another victory, another vital member of the blueline corps, hulking Ryan O’Byrne, gone for six weeks with a knee sprain.
I don’t think ‘ouch’ quite covers it.
So where do the Habs seek solace as they open a three-game swing through Western Canada in Calgary Tuesday night? They can start between the pipes.
Carey Price was absolutely awesome in the opening games of the season and is far and away the biggest reason Montreal has two ticks in the win column. That’s got to do a lot for the confidence of a 22-year-old kid who had a horrible end to last season.
Still, the Canadiens can’t count on Price to turn aside 35-plus shots every night and a defense crew that was already suspect before losing Markov and O’Byrne is really going to have to step up now.
Maybe the blessing in disguise among the blueline ills is the chance to see what 21-year-old Yannick Weber can do. The Canadiens have Weber pegged as a player who can eventually provide an offensive spark, but they’re not in a position to wait around anymore. It would be a huge boon to the club if Weber proves, after spending last year in the American League, that he’s ready to take a regular turn in the NHL. He’s got a good shot, had a strong training camp and isn’t shy about getting involved physically.
The truth is, Montreal’s ‘D’ was far too rickety even before Markov went down and Weber may be able to supply a desperately needed mobility injection.
The Canadiens defense has been depleted not just by injuries, but free agency over the past few seasons as they’ve said goodbye to Sheldon Souray, Mark Streit and Mike Komisarek in consecutive summers.
If there’s a silver lining to be culled from the early-season hard knocks, it could be the revelation there’s somebody already in the system prepared to ease some pain.
This column also appears in the Montreal Metro newspaper.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
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