THN’s PRE-SEASON PREDICTION: Fourth in Atlantic Division.
2013: 29-14-5. Second in East.
KEY DEPARTURES: Colby Armstrong, Blake Geoffrion, Yannick Weber, Michael Ryder, Tomas Kaberle.
KEY ADDITIONS: Douglas Murray, Nick Tarnasky, Daniel Briere, George Parros.
THN’s TOP PROJECTED SCORERS: Max Pacioretty (68), P.K. Subban (63), Tomas Plekanec (57).
PROS: The Canadiens overachieved in the minds of some last season, but after a second-place Eastern Conference finish, expectations are high for essentially the same team. As long as they’re healthy, the Habs will challenge at least for a playoff spot, if not the top of the division. They can produce offense – they finished tied for fourth overall in the league in goals-per-game (3.04) last season – and their defense corps is a well-balanced blend of youth and experience, featuring reigning Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban, partner/shutdown specialist Josh Gorges and Andrei Markov. Montreal GM Marc Bergevin only brought in former Flyers right winger Danny Briere, brawny defenseman Douglas Murray and enforcer George Parros as Montreal’s summertime additions, an indication of the faith he has in the high-energy group. And if Carey Price returns to his form of the 2010-11 campaign, the sky could be the limit for this team.
CONS: The way Price ended the season – with a pedestrian .905 save percentage and 2.59 goals-against average in the regular season and even worse numbers in the playoffs – should be and is concerning to all Habs fans. If he can’t turn his game around, backup Peter Budaj isn’t a long-term answer. Beyond their goaltending, Montreal doesn’t have enough organizational depth to absorb an injury to a key player and still doesn’t have enough size among their forward group. Both Briere and Parros are in their mid-30s and are depreciating assets who likely won’t be difference-makers. We’ll also see what the sophomore experience does to winger Brendan Gallagher and center Alex Galchenyuk, both of whom will be experiencing their first full 82-game season. And despite the edge Parros, Gallagher and Brandon Prust will provide, is this team tough enough to win come playoff time?
X-FACTOR: It all revolves around Price here. Once perceived as a lock to land the No. 1 job on Team Canada’s Olympic entry, Price is now in a dogfight with a wide selection of other netminders. The motivation to win that job and to come back from a below-average season for him should stoke competitive fires. The Habs were one of the top scoring teams last season and also worked efficiently on the other side, allowing the fifth-fewest shots-against per game. But Price didn't crack the top 30 in save percentage. That has to change for this team to match their 2013 season over 82 games.
PERIPHERAL PREDICTION: Longest streak of Montreal’s season: Brendan Gallagher’s consecutive days smiling.
ATLANTIC NO. 4: MONTREAL CANADIENS