Montreal Canadiens Must-Watch Games in 2022-23

The Montreal Canadiens open their regular season just under two months from now in October. How they progress with Martin St. Louis in his first full season as their head coach along with the vice president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton and general manager (GM) Kent Hughes will be key storylines fans will be paying attention to during the year. St. Louis, Gorton, and Hughes assumed their respective positions over the course of a turbulent 2021-22, a season after they were defeated by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.

Despite their historically awful start, the Canadiens managed to go on a winning streak during the second half of the season once St. Louis took over as the interim head coach after the firing of Dominique Ducharme. Even though they finished with the fewest points in the league last year, there are expectations they will show some improvement. Let’s take a look at some must-watch games on their 2022-23 schedule.

Oct. 12, 2022, vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (Game #1)

The Canadiens begin their 2022-23 season at the Bell Centre against one of their top two rivals in the Toronto Maple Leafs. Both fanbases are enormously passionate about the respective organizations that they support and the anticipation for this game will be no different between two of the NHL’s Original Six teams. Some questions for their opening night roster are will Carey Price start in goal? Will Juraj Slafkovsky, the number one overall selection in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, begin his career with the franchise that drafted him or in the American Hockey League (AHL) with their affiliate the Laval Rocket? Fans will be looking forward to this contest even more if he makes a good enough impression during training camp to make their roster at the start of the year.

Juraj Slafkovsky Montreal Canadiens 2022 Draft
Juraj Slafkovsky, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Maple Leafs will enter the year with expectations to break their streak of not winning a playoff series since 2004. Their biggest change from last year is at the goaltending position. Last year’s starter, Jack Campbell, signed a five-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers in free agency. To replace him, they traded with the Ottawa Senators for Matt Murray and added unrestricted free agent (UFA) Ilya Samsonov on a one-year deal.

After a rocky tenure with the Senators, will Murray be able to rekindle his play with the Penguins, where he won two Stanley Cups? The pressure continues to be on the Maple Leafs to make a deep run in the playoffs after a disappointing first-round series loss last season to the eventual Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay Lightning. 

Related: Maple Leafs Can Believe in a Matt Murray Bounce Back

While the goal is to win games, playing good, smart hockey is imperative for St. Louis to implement upon a franchise coming off of a year in which they had the fewest points in the NHL. Future core players such as Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, new addition Kirby Dach, and Slafkovsky are all talented but are still years from the prime of their careers and will continue to learn how to play at a competitive level regularly. Going up against a tough rival to start the season will be a good way for the Canadiens’ roster to begin their year playing with intensity due to the animosity between the organizations.

Oct. 14, 2022, @ Detroit Red Wings (Game #2)

The second game of the season for the Canadiens will be against another Original Six club and divisional opponent, the Detroit Red Wings. GM Steve Yzerman was active during the free agency period as he signed several players headlined by Andrew Copp, and former Canadian defenseman, Ben Chiarot. He executed a trade with the St. Louis Blues for goaltender Ville Husso as well to improve their performance in goal. Under the new head coach Derek Lalonde and with young stars Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider, the new additions will seek to take a once elite franchise to the postseason after a six-year absence that has not won a playoff series since 2013.

The Red Wings have some talented players but will Raymond or Seider, the winner of the 2022 Calder Trophy, encounter sophomore slumps as they aim to build upon exceptional rookie seasons? How many of the free additions will adjust well in their first seasons with their new club? Will Lalonde encounter his share of struggles during his first stint as an NHL head coach? He was an assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning, who won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships during his time there so GM Yzerman is hoping his success as an assistant helps lead to a turnaround for the organization.

Dec. 14, 2022, @ Ottawa Senators (Game #29)

Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux headline the new additions that will look to make an impact with their new franchise and help snap a five-year streak of missing the Stanley Cup playoffs. They will join a young, talented core featuring Brady Tkachuk, Joshua Norris, Tim Stuzle, Drake Batherson, and Thomas Chabot. DeBrincat is an exciting player who excelled playing with an elite playmaker in Patrick Kane during his time with the Chicago Blackhawks.

The pressure will be on GM Pierre Dorion, who will be entering his sixth season as the GM for the Senators, and fourth-year head coach D.J. Smith to get this team back to the postseason. Executing the trade for DeBrincat increases their depth and gives them an exciting player who is capable of leading the organization in goals during the upcoming year. Ultimately, are they capable of challenging a team such as the Boston Bruins, who are projected to finish in the middle of the Atlantic division and be in the hunt for a wild-card spot? It will be quite an improvement from their finish last year as they were 27 points behind the Washington Capitals who finished as the second wild-card team in the Eastern Conference with 100 points. Nevertheless, the goal for them is to be in the hunt for a wild-card spot in 2022-23 with the young core they have assembled.

Dec. 17, 2022, vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (Game #31)

The reigning Eastern Conference Champions and former back-to-back Stanley Cup champions in 2020 and 2021 will enter yet another season looking to go on a deep playoff run for the seventh time in the last nine years. They have reached the Stanley Cup Final four times in the previous eight seasons and will have expectations to advance far in the playoffs yet again. However, could 2022-23 be the season the Tampa Bay Lightning begin to show signs of regression after losing last year’s Stanley Cup Final to a superior franchise in the Colorado Avalanche?

Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Will the losses of Ryan McDonagh and Ondrej Palat factor into any struggles the Lightning will encounter during the season? They still have an excellent core featuring Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman and will remain a top team particularly if they remain relatively healthy throughout the duration of 2022-23. They have arguably the league’s best head coach in Jon Cooper and are what a growing team such as the Canadiens aspires to be a few years from now.

Jan. 24, 2023, & Apr. 13, 2023 vs. Boston Bruins (Games #48 & #82)

Fans of the Canadiens and Bruins have a long wait before the first matchup in 2022-23 between the historic rivals. Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, and Matt Grzelcyk will miss the start of the season with injuries and the roster will be adjusting to a new head coach in Jim Montgomery. Patrice Bergeron will return to play his 19th NHL season and David Krejci will be back with them a year after playing with the Czech Republic. The front office has decided to not undergo a rebuild and the club is hoping to compete for a playoff spot during the upcoming season.

Where the Bruins are in regards to being in the playoff mix will be determined by the time the two rivals meet for the first time next year on Jan. 24, 2023. We will have more of an idea during the Canadiens’ last game of the season on Apr. 13, 2023, where one of their two biggest rivals stands in regards to advancing to play in the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs. Despite the returns of Bergeron and Krejci, they are projected to regress which will resume talk of whether they should undergo a rebuild as the roster is not good enough to compete for a Stanley Cup. If they are on the bubble for a wild-card spot or out of playoff consideration by the time of the contest on Apr. 13, the rebuild conversations will be in the process of recommencing among the local and national sports media once again.

Even though the Canadiens are rebuilding and are likely to have a selection within the top 10 teams in next year’s Entry Draft, fans will be eager to watch how they measure up to the other franchises in the Atlantic. They will be looking to make progress with St. Louis as their head coach for a full season and hoping the young core takes a positive step in their development toward becoming a playoff contender within a few years. In addition to how much they will improve in 2022-23, other questions will be the impacts Price and Slafkovsky will have on the club throughout the year. The former Hart and Vezina Trophy winner missed all but five games in 2021-22 due to entering the NHL’s player assistance program and recovering from knee surgery. He is looking to return healthy and help them improve from last season. How soon will their number one overall draft pick be on their roster to help contribute to the young group of talented players? Despite the rebuild that the organization finds itself in the midst of, there is plenty of intrigue surrounding the franchise as the new season approaches.

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