The Montreal Canadiens finished their preseason schedule with their best game of the slate, a 5-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Quebec City. It made sense, since the Canadiens were playing what was probably close to their opening night lineup.
The Canadiens spent most of the training camp with several injured bodies, and they still have a bunch of regulars out. Lars Eller, Travis Moen and Ryan White are among the wounded as is the biggest name in the bunch Andrei Markov. Chris Campoli, the newest addition, suffered a head injury late in the game and will recover while the team is on its annual team-building retreat.
Moen is expected to be in the opening night lineup and Eller has been cleared for contact but is probably questionable at best for the opener. White has all but been ruled out for the foreseeable future.
Those injuries are opening spaces for other players. Andreas Enqvist, Aaron Palushaj and Michael Blunden are still in camp and at least one will be in the opening night lineup. The question will be which ones. Blunden is most likely going to be the last cut, or will be one of the extra forwards. Palushaj had a very slow start to camp, but came on strong and had a very good game against Tampa Bay. Enqvist is the only center in the group which could also give him a leg up.
The other thing that will be interesting to look at on opening night will be the line combinations. Jacques Martin has fiddled around with combinations in his top-nine looking for the right balance. One could assume that one line will be Max Pacioretty-Scott Gomez-Brian Gionta. The other line will be Mike Cammalleri-Tomas Plekanec and either Andrei Kostitsyn or Erik Cole. That will leave, for the time being David Desharnais and Mathieu Darche with either Cole or Kostitsyn, although Palushaj or Yannick Weber may be moved to this line to add a little more offensive punch. The fourth line will depend who makes the final cut which will only be announced closer to opening night.
On defence, things depend on Campoli’s health. It looks like the pairings will be Hal Gill-P.K. Subban, Jaroslav Spacek-Raphael Diaz and Josh Gorges-Chris Campoli. If Campoli cannot go, it looks like Alexei Yemelin will step in. Yemelin will most likely be the 7th defenceman and when everyone is healthy split time with Diaz.
The key to this Canadiens team will be goaltending and even strength scoring. If they can spread the scoring through the top three lines, which seems to be the plan through the roster construction, they should be alright. For the second straight year, they will open up on the road against Toronto. It will be a pretty different team. Compared to last year’s opening night roster there look to be at least six players who were not in last season’s season opener.