Canadiens’ Expectations for 2022-23 – Defence & Goaltending 

This article follows up on the expectations for forwards and is the final part of the expected performance series. Here, we will look at what we can reasonably expect from the Canadiens roster this season by using Trege Wilson’s THW lineup projection. In this article, we’ll cover the defense and goaltenders. We will be using last season’s production as a starting point and adjusting for their expected roles and responsibilities this season. Keep in mind that this will be a Habs lineup expected to finish near the bottom of the NHL standings. 

Canadiens’ Goaltending  

It is official, Carey Price will not be playing in the NHL this season, and possibly, never again. His legacy as a Canadiens goaltender is set, and a Hall of Fame induction is nearly all but guaranteed. However, that cannot happen until three years after his retirement. With over $30 million still owed to him in the final four years of his contract, it is highly unlikely any professional athlete would leave that much salary on the table.

This leaves a goaltending tandem that backstopped the Canadiens for parts of last season, Jake Allen and Samuel Montembeault. The expectations for this tandem cannot be held too high as they will both be playing above what has been asked of them in their careers. Starting with Montembeault, who just signed a two-year deal paying him $1 million in average annual value (AAV), his career save percentage (SV%) of .892 is not ideal to be a contending team’s backup, yet for the Canadiens who are in transition, that isn’t going to be crippling. Last season, in his 38 starts, he was at a .891 SV%, so it wouldn’t be out of the question to see him remain at that level but start fewer games, with 30 being a reasonable prediction.

Related: Should The Canadiens Retire Carey Price’s Number 

As for Allen, he has been an excellent backup who could be a fill-in as a starter. However, this season, he will be the go-to guy in the net who is likely to start the majority of the games before the trade deadline. As he is in the last year of his contract that earns him $2.875 million AAV, it is possible that he could be traded if the right offer is made.

Last season, he suffered through an injury-filled campaign that impacted his numbers, finishing at a .905 SV% in his 35 starts. A reasonable projection for him in 2022-23 could be to have him return to his career average of .911 SV% and start 50 games. This return to the average might mean a few more wins for the Canadiens, but more importantly, the scores in the games he starts would be kept close.

Jake Allen Montreal Canadiens
Jake Allen, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Vincent Ethier/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

If you are keeping track of starts, you’ll only count 80, leaving two games open. Well, that is left as a cushion allowing for management to call up Cayden Primeau, once he is signed to an extension, to have NHL starts to gauge his progression or to allow him to fill in for injuries.

Canadiens’ Defence 

It will be very difficult to make any predictions on the output of the blue line. This group will be focused on cutting down on high-danger chances against, and by doing that, reducing the number of goals allowed. However, with the style of play Martin St. Louis wants to install — a fast-paced, puck-possession style — the defencemen will play a significant role in the transition game.

There will be several young, inexperienced defenders being rotated into the lineup throughout the season, as Kaiden Guhle, Justin Barron, Jordan Harris, and possibly others will be given NHL experience to help their development. However, this approach will lead to mistakes being made, and likely some losses. That being said, it’s a necessary growing pain in a rebuild. What it also means, is that the coaching staff can focus on building their offensive games to take advantage of their mobility and individual offensive skill sets.

Top Pair 

Newly acquired, Mike Matheson will be expected to add offence and fill the hole left behind by the departure of Jeff Petry. At 28 years old, the former Pittsburgh Penguin is coming off of a season where he scored a career high in goals (11) and points (31), all done with minimal power-play time. The puck-moving defender has become the Canadiens’ top defenceman who will be counted on to play in every situation, by virtue of his experience, playing style and being the top-paid defender at $4.875 million. However, a projection for his output this season shouldn’t exceed last season’s totals. He will get more ice time and more power-play time and could be expected to meet the 30-point threshold again in 2022-23.

David Savard with his stay-at-home style is a good fit and the likeliest partner for Matheson, as he has the most experience on the right side. Last season, he provided 17 points and reliable defence under St. Louis. But he could repeat his totals from 2020-21 while also providing some capable puck movement as well as shot blocking and heavy lifting in a penalty-killing role.

Second Pair 

Joel Edmundson will anchor this pairing. He’s big (6-foot-4, 225 pounds), mobile and plays a physical style. He will not be much of an offensive contributor (only had six points last season), but he can mentor a young partner while they develop their offensive game. Last season, he suffered a back injury, missing most of the year. The Canadiens will need a full season from him this year to help stabilize the blue line. His ability to play both the left and right side makes him ideal to play a mentorship role with any of the rookie defencemen that will be called up as they can play their strong side while Edmundson can play the other side with them.

Joel Edmundson
Joel Edmundson, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Vincent Ethier/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Justin Barron is one of those rookies. He joined the Canadiens in the Artturi Lehkonen trade and scored his first NHL goal with an impressive shot. His mobility and two-way game will be an important fixture for the team’s future and pairing Barron with Edmundson can help him play more offensively as his partner covers defensively. A projection for a rookie defender with only seven NHL games under his belt shouldn’t be too high, but 20 points and earning a role on the second wave of the power play should be attainable. 

Third Pair 

Chris Wideman was brought in to add veteran help to the bottom pair and mobility on the power play. Coming off a season of 24 points in 67 games, it wouldn’t be out of the question to expect 70 games and 30 points. With nearly 50 percent of his points coming off the power play last season, it’s possible to see the same ratio continue. Any additional points this season could also mean more power-play points, which hopefully will add a slight improvement to the team’s overall percentage.

Jordan Harris has an inside track to be the other rookie defender in the lineup to start the season. He only has eight NHL games to his name but he is older (22 years old) and has experience playing heavy minutes in all situations with Northeastern of the NCAA. He will need to further adjust to the speed of the NHL game, and will likely rotate in and out of the lineup all season along with other rookie defencemen such as Kaiden Guhle and Arbor Xhekaj. Expectations for any of them should keep in mind their age and experience. Production will be low, under 20 points, and errors will occur, but the goal is to develop them into NHL regulars by next season.

One name to keep an eye on is Corey Schueneman. Last season, he earned his coach’s trust with his mobility and low-risk defensive style. He will be on hand to fill in where necessary, due to injuries or to fill in for the rookies. It could be expected to see him suit up for 40 games and if so, score 10 to 15 points. 

Overall Expectations 

Going into the 2022-23 season, there is still an expectation that the Canadiens, as a whole, will improve on last season’s 317 goals against, which left them as the NHL’s worst-ranked defence. Even though it is unlikely to reach the mid-way point of the league, it is still expected that the Canadiens will have dramatic improvement while also cutting down on the number of lopsided losses suffered last season.

The cumulative effect for this lineup offensively will likely be lower than that of last season. The expectations on the power play and 5-on-5 are not for these defencemen to lead in any offensive category, but to focus on an ability to generate controlled zone exits and entries, as well as one, maybe two defenders, becoming capable of playing on the power play. If the defence and goaltending can help the Canadiens finish the season ranked close to 20th overall or with fewer than 250 goals against, then that would signal a significant improvement over last season, making 2022-23 a successful one in that category.

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