No Respect – Most NHL pre-season polls have the Canadiens’ season ending somewhere between reaching the playoffs through a wildcard berth or not making them at all. The pundits are talking about the same team that last season beat out Boston for the Northeast division title and finished second to Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference. The pollsters, in their proven limited wisdom, apparently think this isn’t worth consideration. In their view, the late season slumps of both the team and Carey Price plus the limited sample size of the 48 game schedule makes them unworthy of respect. They may be right…..but then again….usually they’re not.
Continuity – It’s been eight and a half months between Toronto/Canadiens season openers. Tuesday night there will be only four changes from the lineup that started last season. Gone for various reasons are Erik Cole, Colby Armstrong and Tomas Kaberle and Alexei Emelin starts on injury reserve. That means only three starting newcomers over eight and a half months; Daniel Briere, George Parros and Jarred Tinordi.
The Sophomore – Some interesting stats from behindthenet.ca regarding Alex Galchenyuk’s rookie season. According to their calculations, Galchenyuk’s 2.83 points per 60 minutes at even strength was 13th in the NHL, better than Rick Nash (2.77), Martin St. Louis (2.77), Ryan Getzlaf (2.76), Patrick Kane (2.67) and Steven Stamkos (2.65). Galchenyuk went through a rough patch between Feb. 25 and April 1, with three assists in 17 games. But he finished with a flurry of 12 points in 13 games playing on Eller’s wing. Over his final seven games, Galchenyuk averaged 11:17 of ice time and still managed three goals and three assists.
Special Teams – Last season, the Canadiens had their worst penalty killing in a couple of decades ranking 23rd in the league with a success rate of a dismal 79 percent. Traditionally special teams get little attention until late in training camp when rosters are solidified. Success and failure in this department is more a coaching problem than one of personnel. Over their 48 games last season the Canadiens allowed around 15 power play goals more than one of the top ten penalty killing teams. Eliminating them would change the result of a lot of games.
No Depth on Defence – It hurt the Canadiens down the stretch and into the playoffs last season with injuries to first Alexei Emelin and then Raphael Diaz forcing the Canadiens to trade for the borderline Davis Drewiske and bring up unseasoned Nathan Beaulieu and then Jarred Tinordi from Hamilton. The bugbear has returned in training camp with Drewiske and Douglas Murray down and the team entering the year with no backup roster depth. Marc Bergevin and the front office face a tough decision. Do they risk keeping only six defencemen on their roster; look for a minor deal as they did with acquisition of Drewiske last year, or risk bringing up an unready Beaulieu or perhaps the more experienced Magnus Nygren from Hamilton?
Dependable – A lot of attention being paid to Carey Price’s attempt to rebound from his late season slump but Peter Budaj is going to have to shoulder a prominent load too. This season’s schedule has the Canadiens playing on back-to-back nights on 16 different occasions. That’s at least sixteen occasions when we’re likely to see Budaj. In addition, eleven times they will play three games in four nights with heaviest stretch in late November and early December when they play five games in seven nights and seven in ten. Inevitably, Budaj will shoulder his heaviest workload since he joined the Canadiens. The New Jersey Devils lead the NHL this season with twenty-two back-to-back games.