The NHL preseason is wrapping up as rosters are being finalized, systems are being fine-tuned, and players are getting back into game shape. For the Montreal Canadiens, Oct. 3 is coming fast. A team that narrowly missed the playoffs last season, the Canadiens are poised to make a run at a playoff spot once again.
The first month of the season doesn’t define how a team is going to finish, especially when the first ten games are extremely high-scoring affairs. That said, the Canadiens know from experience that starting off on the right foot will set them in the right direction towards hockey in late April. Here are a few things worth noting heading into the season:
Price Coming Back from Another Injury
If there is any chance of the Canadiens making the playoffs in 2020, their goaltender needs to be at his best and his healthiest. For the last half-decade, Carey Price’s injury woes have been the hot topic. Whether it’s knee problems, a tweaked groin, a concussion, or even a lack of Vitamin D, Price has spent his share of time on the IR.
Now, he is recovering from a bruised hand on his trapper side and was held out of the last two games as a precautionary measure. The most difficult part of coming back from an injury to the glove hand is getting used to catching pucks at high speed again.
The hope is that Price is back on the ice by the end of this week, presumably giving him enough time to be 100% for opening night. However, adjustments will have to be made to his equipment in order to protect him from further damage. Hopefully, his recovery is swift, as the Canadiens have a history of mismanaging Price’s health.
Domi and Tatar to Lead the Offence
Two players who showed us last season that they will be offensive leaders this season are Max Domi and Tomas Tatar. Tatar, who was part of the Max Pacioretty trade to the Vegas Golden Knights, put up career numbers in assists and points in his first season in Montreal. His 25 goals and 33 assists ranked second in team scoring behind Domi.
Similar to Tatar, Domi made quite the impression in his first season with the Canadiens, and has become one of the leaders in the dressing room. He set career highs in almost every offensive category; his 72 points were 20 more than his previous best, set in his rookie season. He will be given every opportunity to improve on last season, and he will likely be placed on the top line and top power-play unit.
These two will be leading the charge to start the regular season. They’ve shown they have the skill to produce. and the consistency to do so throughout an 82-game schedule. There are hopes that Jonathan Drouin will come into his own and be the dominant play-maker he was in junior and for stretches with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Depth Will Struggle to Produce
One issue that has plagued the Canadiens for the past few seasons has been their lack of depth. While they have had talented players on the top two lines and in their top-four on defence, there has been little support from the bottom-six forwards and third-pair defensemen.
Looking at the roster, the Canadiens’ probable third and fourth-line centres will be either Nate Thompson, Philip Danault, or Jordan Weal, with Danault being the most productive offensively last season, scoring 53 points. On the wings, Joel Armia and Artturi Lehkonen are the only two notable scoring wingers in the bottom six.
Defensively, the third pair will feature any combination of Victor Mete, Brett Kulak, or Mike Reilly, none of who have been able to find their scoring touch in the NHL.
Playing devil’s advocate, one of the biggest reasons the depth players will not produce offensively this season will be due to their roles. When the Canadiens’ top guns are as fresh as they will be for the first month or so of the season, it would be wrong for Claude Julien to keep them on the bench. Instead, he will give them the offensive zone starts to give the team the best chance put points on the board.
The Canadiens have a promising team. While they are still years away from ever getting back to being a Stanley Cup contender, there is hope in Montreal. As stated previously, the ending result of a team is not set in stone by Game 10 of the regular season. However, it is imperative for a team to mesh and have chemistry early on in hopes of being consistent with the duration of the season. Especially in a division that sees them having to battle the Lightning, Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs for position in the standings.