During the 2022-23 season, the Tampa Bay Lightning will play their Atlantic Division foes 26 times, including four games against the Montreal Canadiens. After reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2021 and losing to the Lightning, the Canadiens struggled during the 2021-22 season. The iconic NHL franchise could earn only 55 points, finishing last in the Atlantic Division.
The Canadiens appear to be in the middle of a rebuild and are trying to place themselves to be successful for a long time within the next couple of seasons. They made a few changes in the offseason that slightly improved the roster from last season, but they do not appear to be serious contenders for a playoff spot in 2022-23. The Canadiens are coached by former Lightning great Martin St. Louis, who was hired in February 2022 when Dominique Ducharme was fired.
The biggest offseason blow to the Canadiens came last month when the team announced that Carey Price would probably not play in the coming season, and his career may be over. In August, the team announced that he would not return until he had surgery and that the ensuing rehab might not be enough to allow him to continue his stellar career. What the team lost is the winningest goaltender in Canadiens history, an Olympic champion, and a player who gave everything he could since being drafted by the team fifth overall in 2005.
If Price does not play, the job will fall to his backup from last season, Jake Allen. The former St. Louis Blues netminder did post a.905 save percentage for a team that was not very good last season. However, the 31-year-old does not project as a solid starter, having struggled previously in that role. The other goalie could be Cayden Primeau, who had a 1-7-1 record in 12 games with the Canadiens last season and has a career NHL record of 3-10-2. The 23-year-old posted a 16-12-3 record in 33 games with the Laval Rocket and played very well for them in the American Hockey League (AHL) playoffs. It’s likely that the Canadiens decide to have Primeau get some more work in the AHL, which means the other goalie would probably be Samuel Montembeault, who compiled an 8-18-6 record in 38 games with the Canadiens last season.
The Lightning forwards should be looking forward to facing whomever the Canadiens place in net, as this represents the weakest unit on their roster. Allen is a reliable but not a spectacular goalie, while Primeau and Montembeault will need some more seasoning to reach their full potential. The Lightning are well poised to take advantage of this situation.
Nick Suzuki was recently named captain of the Canadiens, and he will look to post numbers similar to what he did in 2020-21 when he was a bit more effective. Cole Caufield, who played much better in the second half last year, is hoping to give Suzuki a boost on the first line. In the offseason, they completed a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks for Kirby Dach, who was the third overall pick in 2019. Injuries and other factors have led to him not living up to his draft expectations, but the Canadiens are hoping that they can maximize his given strengths. To help with their younger players, they also acquired veteran Sean Monahan from the Calgary Flames.
Even with their last-place finish, the Lightning may find the Canadien forwards a tough group to handle, much like last season when all three games were decided by one goal. This year’s group will provide a stiff test for the Lightning, and the young Canadien forward group may improve quite a bit throughout the season under the guidance of Martin St. Louis. This will all happen even before the 2022 first-overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky hits the ice.
While the Canadiens improved on offense, the same cannot be said for their defense in 2022-23. Joel Edmundson, Mike Matheson, Chris Wideman, and David Savard compromise the first two defensive pairings, which is an average group at best. The biggest issue comes on the third line that will be filled by players who do not have a great deal of experience in Jordan Harris and Justin Barron. Without Price in net to bail this group out on occasion, the Canadiens have to hope that they develop quickly.
The Lightning should be able to take advantage of the Canadiens’ defensive group to allow them ample opportunities to score in their matchups this season. The lack of solid shut-down defensemen and questionable goaltending are going to be something that the Lightning will need to take advantage of in their four contests.
Last season, the Lightning were 10-3-1 against the bottom four teams in the Atlantic Division, including going 1-1-1 against the Canadiens. Even though the Canadiens should somewhat improve this season, a realistic goal would be for the Lightning to win three of their four contests in the hopes of having similar success against weaker Atlantic Division foes.
Jim Bay writes about the Tampa Bay Lightning for THW. A retired Special Education Teacher, Jim enjoys writing about hockey and all sports when he is not slashing his way around local golf courses. For interview requests or to provide content info, follow Jim on Twitter. (https://twitter.com/baysports007)