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THN’s 2015-16 NHL season preview: Montreal Canadiens

The Canadiens were propelled by an MVP season by Carey Price in 2014-15, but they can’t rely solely on Price if they want to win a Stanley Cup. The offense in Montreal needs to improve and much of that responsibility will fall on newly appointed captain Max Pacioretty.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

2014-15 Record: 50-22-10 (110 Pts.)

THN’s Prediction: 3rd, Atlantic Division

What To Expect: Atop

Carey Price’s shoulders, the defensively sound Canadiens finished with the league’s second-best record last year. Goal production and power play proficiency were bottom-10, but Price’s Hart Trophy-winning heroics negated offensive shortcomings. Montreal’s lack of scoring punch was glaring, and fans clamored for GM Marc Bergevin to add a scorer this off-season. He didn’t make a big splash but signed right winger

Alexander Semin after Carolina bought him out from a lucrative deal. Semin has seven seasons of 20 or more goals but scored six last year. He is low-risk, high-reward but can’t be counted on.

Bergevin sought to upgrade size among the forwards, and adding right winger

Zack Kassian, 24, addresses that need. Kassian and Semin will compete for minutes behind

Brendan Gallagher on the right side. The Habs remain defensive dynamos. Price and

P.K. Subban should, at the very least, carry them to a top-three Atlantic finish. Newly appointed captain

Max Pacioretty is the lone gunner up front and should again top 30 goals, though he injured his knee in July and could miss the start of the season. Pesky Gallagher managed 24 goals and should produce at that level again. The Habs' size up front remains an issue, especially down the middle.

Alex Galchenyuk has a big frame and will lineup as a center this season. His point total will climb. One remedy for scoring woes would be improving a power play that ranked 23rd. A top unit built around Subban and Pacioretty should be a force in theory. The blueline is rock-solid, featuring a top four of Subban,

Andrei Markov,

Jeff Petry and

Nathan Beaulieu. Petry, 27, fit in perfectly as a trade deadline pickup and signed a six-year extension. Beaulieu, a 2011 first-rounder, will see his role increase as a top-four staple. Goaltending remains Montreal's bedrock. Price, 28, led the league in wins, save percentage, and goals-against average and now carries the title of "NHL's Best Goalie." Nothing suggests he or the Habs will regress.

Best-Case Scenario: The season won’t hinge on Semin’s play, but he could be the offensive force Montreal needs up front to give the Canadiens that extra bit of scoring punch up front that makes a difference in the post-season. Goaltending can rarely single-handedly win a Stanley Cup, but when on top of his game Price is near unbeatable. Add in a full season of Jeff Petry and the Canadiens have a well put together roster that can make some noise in the East.

Worst-Case Scenario: More often than not the Canadiens relied on Price to bail them out and while he’s more than capable of being equal to the task, asking for two straight MVP seasons out of the netminder might be a lot to ask. Montreal needs to show an improved offense or they could be bowing out of the post-season early in 2015-16.

Who To Watch: The easy answer would be Price, but all eyes will be on newly appointed captain Pacioretty. Many expected Subban to take over the captaincy, but the Canadiens’ players voted Pacioretty to take the ‘C’ over the all-star defenseman. Pacioretty has been Montreal’s offensive leader in each of the past four seasons, but he’ll have the added pressure that comes with being captain of the NHL’s most storied franchise. Pacioretty has consistently increased his scoring and notched 37 goals and 67 points in 2014-15. The Canadiens haven’t had a 70-point player since Tomas Plekanec reached that mark in 2009-10 and the best season any Montreal player has had in the past 15 years was Alex Kovalev’s 35-goal, 84-point campaign in 2007-08. The Canadiens could use that kind of offensive output from their new captain and it would make him a hero in Montreal.

What The Numbers Say (by Dom Luszczyszyn):

Click here for more detail on these predictions. Price was unbeatable last season and the team will need that to continue because they’re not very strong outside the crease. That lack of depth puts their projection much closer to playoff bubble teams than it does to contenders. Pacioretty is a phenomenal player while Gallagher and Galchenyuk are great young talents who could breakout big this season, but there’s not much to get excited about the Canadiens forwards after them. The same thing can be said about the defense where it’s Subban leading the charge with five others who don’t really stand out. Limiting Alexei Emelin’s minutes (or finding a replacement) would help the team’s cause a great deal since he’s the Canadiens largest deficit. With an average goalie, the Canadiens would be just an 85-to-90 point team depending on how time on ice was distributed. Luckily for them, that’s not an issue they have to worry about thanks to Carey Price who leads all goalies in projected WAR. Their success hinges on how much he can replicate last season’s numbers. Price was worth 5.4 WAR last season – tops in the entire league – but based on his last three seasons, the most reasonable expectation for 2015-16 is about three wins. Looking at his career GAR per game shows he’s capable of maintaining a high level as he has the past two seasons, but the chance his numbers plummet is still very real.

Any slide by Price would be a nightmare for the Canadiens. Even if he plays to expectations, the Habs are still only a 50/50 playoff team. Montreal’s skaters needs to be better to ease his burden because hoping for another career season isn’t the safest strategy, especially from a goalie. The Canadiens will go as far as Price takes them.

THN is rolling out its 2015-16 Team Previews daily, in reverse alphabetical order, until the start of the season. Check out our ‘Previews’ section to see other team breakdowns.

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