Though the fans here in Montreal are devoted they are also hard to please. Pretty much any season that doesn’t result in a Stanley Cup is seen as a disappointment. If you looked at things objectively, meaning not wearing the glasses of a fan of the team, then you would have to say that last season was a success. I know they did not get as far in the playoffs as the season prior, but that was pretty much an aberration. Based on the talent they had getting into the 2nd round and losing against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team that would go on to represent the Eastern Division in the Stanley Cup finals, was a fair result. This season the team looks stronger, so expectations should be raised a little.
In today’s world of sports it truly is run like a business with the bottom end being what matters most, each team goes through changes in the off season. The NHL is not immune to that. You just have to look at the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Black Hawks and all their changes to realize the reality. Montreal is not different. The line-up this season will be noticeably different. Players like Mike Weaver, Sergei Gonchar, Manny Malhotra, and P.A. Parenteau were not resigned while others like Brandon Prust, Travis Moen, Rene Bourque, and Jiri Sekac were traded late in the season or during the off season. This means there are new faces to fill in the voids. Torrey Mitchell, Brian Flynn, Jeff Petry, and Devante Smith-Pelly were obtained towards the end of the season while young players like Jacob De la Rose, Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, and Greg Pateryn were brought up and Zack Kassian, Alexander Semin, Mark Barberio, and Tomas Fleischmann were added over the summer. Young players like Charles Hudon, Mark McCarron, Christian Thomas, Mike Condon, Daniel Carr, Gabriel Dumont, Darren Dietz, Zachary Fucale, Nikita Scherbak, and Sven Andrighetto are also expected to be knocking on the door.
We are deep into the preseason now and strong play by veterans Fleischmann (who was invited to camp on a tryout) and Semin means that the Montreal can now be considered a more experienced, talented and deep side. The big problem for Montreal last season was goal production. They struggled most of the season creating goal scoring opportunities and notching goals. The two talented veteran wingers they obtained in the off season (for little money) will help out in that department. Semin has really clicked in preseason with his linemates – Alex Galchenyuk, who has been moved to centre, and Lars Eller, who has been playing left wing. If this line is successful then it will take a lot of the pressure and other teams’ attention off the team’s new captain and number one scorer, Max Pacioretty, who will probably start the season on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher. The move of Galchenyuk to centre has led to David Desharnais being dropped down to the 3rd line. Montreal has not had a 3rd line for a long while which has contributed offensively. The potential 3rd line of Desharnais – Dale Weiss – Fleischmann might solve that problem. Desharnais is the playmaker on the line with Fleischmann and Weiss being able to play in both ends. That leaves the 4th line to be made up of a combination of Smith-Pelly, De la Rose, Kassian, Mitchell or Flynn.
Goaltending is not an area that Montreal will have any worries in for many years to come as long as Carey Price remains healthy. However, a question mark has arisen in regards to who will slot in has his back-up. Last year’s back-up, Dustin Tokarski, did not have a very good season leaving some doubt in people’s minds as to whether he is the right man. Those doubts grew when the massive Mike Condon played so well in his preseason appearances. Montreal’s brain trust have a decision to be made.
Resigning free agent Jeff Petry to a contract now takes pressure off coach Michel Therrien in regards to overplaying his two top defenseman, P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov. Petry becomes the team’s second or third best defenseman and can play on the second pairing and on the power play. This allows 36-year-old Markov’s minutes to be decreased with aim of him looking fresher than he did last playoffs. Beaulieu will probably be moved up to the second pairing and earning him the experience he needs to contribute to his maximum. That leaves Pateryn, Alexei Emelin, Tinordi, Tom Gilbert, and Barberio to battle it out for the last three spots. The defensive squad will now be in their proper chairs allowing them to be placed in situations that best suit their talents. Montreal has so much depth on defense that it places them in a position of considering moving one defenseman to gain a forward or prospects or draft pick.
All this leads to Montreal trending in the right direction and having their eyes on the big prize – the Stanley Cup. When you have the best goalie in the NHL in Price it gives you the chance to win any game or series. His stellar play allows the team to score less because he allows so few goals. If Galchenyuk and Gallagher continue to notch more goals each season and Kassian scores more than Prust did plus Semin and Fleischmann do what they are capable of the team should produce more goals than the 214 they did last season. Bottom line is that Montreal is one of the class sides of the Eastern Division. They should find themselves competing the Lightning, New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, and Pittsburgh Penguins for the top team in the division. Settle in for what should be a very interesting 82 game season and (hopefully) a lengthy playoff run. The season begins in Toronto against the Maple Leafs for the Canadiens on October 7th.
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