I know it’s just preseason. I saw how great Montreal have been the last two years both in preseason and before Christmas. I know it means squat. I know we’d all trade a great preseason and a great start to the season for a long run into the playoffs. Their recent struggles might just be due to a new defence core, a new coach, a new system, and new linemates and positions for all our forwards. These are all solid reasons for Montreal’s early struggles.
Carey Price didn’t start super but he’s gotten better every game and I don’t think, of all the concerns Montreal may or may not have, Price’s play (barring injury) is one of them. Price played okay (for Price’s standards) last season and was still in the running for the Vezna. To be guaranteed a top 3 goaltender is fine by me. What is concerning is his backup. Al Montoya didn’t look very good at all in the preseason. To the point where it’s tough to justify putting him in at all. We’re going to need him to play games in order for Price to be well rested for the playoffs and we’re going to need him to win games to ensure the Canadiens get there. I guess the good news is that I doubt, from what I’ve seen, he’s going to play much worse.
While the goaltending arrangement might not be ideal unless Montoya can find it within him to nab a few wins, I think our defence is a serious concern. Gone from last year’s roster are Mark Barberio, Nathan Beaulieu, Alexei Emelin, Andrei Markov, and Greg, Pateryn. I liked how Barberio and Pateryn stepped in and played solid roles throughout last season. Can the new replacement players come into the lineup with as little disruption as Greg and Mark did? Possibly, but no matter how well or poorly the guys rotating into the lineup to cover off injuries gel with the regulars, the gaping question remains; can Beaulieu, Emelin, and Markov all be replaced in one season seamlessly enough to even make the playoffs, let alone to forge that deep run into the playoffs we’ve all been craving.
Mark Streit is an older defensemen on his second stint with the Habs. I really liked him on his first round in Montreal and was sorry to see him go, but he’s no Markov. Markov is better in his own zone in regards to both defensive zone coverage and moving the puck out. He’s also a year younger. Sure, he would have cost more but with about $8 million under the cap, the Montreal Canadiens could surely have afforded him. Remember, we’re a win right now team, not a bide our time and wait team, and replacing Andre Markov with Mark Streit doesn’t have that, “I want to win a Stanley Cup this year” feel to it. I don’t think it would have cost that much more to keep Markov in the NHL and I don’t know of any fan who wouldn’t take Markov on the third pairing with an obvious option to move him ahead in the depth chart should our new acquisitions not work out.
Karl Alzner is fresh out of a President’s Trophy winning roster, but like the rest of the Washington Capitals, was mediocre in the playoffs. What Karl brings to our roster is more size and grit in the back end, but he replaces some grit so I don’t know if there’s much of a gain. If Nathan Beaulieu wasn’t traded to Buffalo for next to nothing I think the Golden Knights take him and we are left with Emelin. Emelin has better Corsi and better Fenwick scores and certainly hits every bit as hard as Alzner and then some. Emelin did manage to give the puck away at some very inopportune times but from what I’ve seen in the preseason, Alzner is no better in his own end. In my opinion, this is at best, a lateral move resulting from a preventable expansion draft loss.
David Schlemko hasn’t worn a jersey yet, picked up from the Golden Knights for a 5th round pick. It’s worthy to note that the Golden Knights traded Emelin to Nashville for a 3rd round pick. Montreal could have swung a similar deal using the 3rd round pick they got for Beaulieu… but they didn’t. Schlemko is supposed to be solid in his own zone with good puck moving abilities. A hand injury has unfortunately prevented us from seeing for ourselves. I assume he’s been brought in to fill the gap that would have ideally been filled by Beaulieu before Montreal brass gave up on the young man. Admittedly, Beaulieu didn’t have a great season last year. Keep in mind; that was under Therrien, who is an awful coach, and I highly doubt he would have repeated that this year under Julien. He also put up better numbers than Schlemko and you have to think that at 24 there was still a reasonable possibility that Beaulieu improves some this season while at 30 it’s unlikely Schlemko will… and to think, if Montreal had kept Beaulieu then given a 3rd round pick to Las Vegas they could’ve kept both he and Emelin. I guess we shall see if these moves come back to haunt us. If the first 6 games of the preseason are any indication they just might.
I liked Jordie Benn last year and if he can continue to play that way this year he’ll be a bright spot. At 31 Shea Webber isn’t getting any younger but he’s still a beast on the blue line. Two entertaining defencemen (if you like defencemen who can actually play defence) and who I know will make attempts to crash Carey’s crease costly. Victor Mete from the London Knights is a player I really don’t have a gauge on yet. Collectively, the defence was horrendous for the first 6 preseason games which, hopefully, weren’t a good gauge for any of our defence. They 9-2 blowout win over the Senators also didn’t serve to gauge talent. I’m sure we’ll all be keeping an eye on him for the first 10 games.
I know we’re all excited about the first game against Buffalo. I suspect the lineup to be something like this; Pacioretty/Drouin/Gallagher, Galchenyuk/Danault/Shaw, Hudon/Plekanec/Lehkonen, Byron/Mitchell/Hemsky, Mete/Weber, Alzner/Petry, Benn/Streit, with Price in net backed up by Montoya.
I’ll talk about the forwards more later, but on paper it looks to be balanced with potentially a 30 goal scorer on each of our top 2 lines. The defence has the potential to be grittier which could mean less traffic for Price and we all know what grit means in the playoffs. A team that wants to be a legitimate contender for the Cup should beat Buffalo by a couple of goals, but last year the Sabres proved to be a tough opponent for the Canadiens, so don’t be surprised if the Habs start off the season 0-1. Either way, it’s been a long, hot summer. We’ve had to say goodbye to some fan favourites in Beaulieu and Radulov for sure (and Emelin for me). We’ve gotten in return at least one (I’ve already got my Drouin jersey), and I’m ready for some hockey. Go Habs, go!