Call it deja vu all over again. For the second year in a row, there are a lot of questions surrounding the Montreal Canadiens. And, for the second straight year it starts with their playoff performance and ends with the health of their blue line.
Is this team really as close to the Stanley Cup as they were last year?
Last year: Is this team really a final-four team
Similar questions. Two years ago, the Canadiens stunned everybody going into the Eastern conference semi-final. Last year, they took the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins to seven games and three of their four losses (including game seven) went into overtime. The question is, are they that close? The answer is yes. Every team that makes the playoffs has a chance to win the Cup and this Montreal team should not struggle to make the playoffs. They are a growing group after an extreme makeover three summers ago and if they can stay healthy, and get good goaltending they should be alright. Which leads to the next two questions.
Is Carey Price for real?
Last year: How could they have traded Jaroslav Halak?
Again, similar questions but Carey Price is still going to answer his critics. They look at last year as a season that is impossible for him to repeat and see the Canadiens regressing as a result. The alternative is that Carey Price is actually that good and you should be able to expect similar numbers from Price for the rest of his career. Young players always have a certain type of variability when thrust into the spotlight. Goaltenders especially. How Price responds this year may affect how people look at him the rest of his career.
Can the Canadiens stay healthy?
Last year: Can the small forwards of the Canadiens stand up to an entire season?
The slight change of wording is that, well, the Canadiens a) got bigger (and those bigger guys are injury concerns themselves) and b) have question marks on the defensive side more so than the forward side as far as health is concerned.
The two biggest forwards, Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty, have significant injury concerns. Cole has been pretty healthy in his whole career but he is getting older, and his physical play lends itself to more bumps and bruises and the Canadiens made a huge investment in him. Cole’s biggest injury was due to a severe neck injury and he has proved he has bounced back from it. Pacioretty can probably get some advice from Cole and tonight will play his first real hockey game since the injury. If it affects Pacioretty’s game, that will be a big blow to the Canadiens as his arrival last year really started turning the team around.
On defence, Josh Gorges is back and healthier than ever. He does have to get back into game shape and the preseason will be interesting to watch him. Other players on the defence are injury concerns. Hal Gill and Jaroslav Spacek are both older which could mean more fragile. The Canadiens do not have the depth to deal with multiple injuries on the back-end but do have cap space to maneuver like they did last year. That leads to…
Can Andrei Markov come back from his injury?
Last year: Can Andrei Markov come back from his injury?
Markov is the Canadiens best defenceman. While the team isn’t lost without him the way it was before, there are concerns and the team will need him to be healthy and stay healthy this season. There are already concerns about the rehab and rumours have abounded about what exactly is wrong with the knee right now, and whether it is a setback or an aggravation. The sooner Markov comes back and the better he plays will go a long way in helping the Canadiens take the next step.
There are other questions, namely Scott Gomez and how David Desharnais and Lars Eller prepare for their second seasons. Not to mention Yannick Weber and Alexei Yemelin and their increased roles this season. The major thing is to not look at the preseason for these results. The results mean little and trends, while interesting, can turn around very quickly.
These answers will only be answered throughout the regular season and what those answers are will go a long way towards telling us what sport the Canadiens are playing come May and June.
A freelance sports reporter in Montreal with a BA in Journalism from Concordia University, Jared has written about every sport from hockey to tennis online and in print. He will be covering the Montreal Canadiens for THW. You could follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jaredbook.