Montreal Canadiens Season Preview

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A little more than five months ago, Ste-Catherine's Street in downtown Montreal was being cordoned off by riot police as the entire city took to the streets to celebrate the Canadiens' Game 7 win against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in Pittsburgh. Even after the Habs lost in the conference finals to Philadelphia, emotions were still running high in La Belle Province, and impromptu commercials were being made in honor of Montreal goaltending savior Jaroslav Halak. Since then, the city and its fans have come back down to earth, and Halak has moved on to more profitable pastures in St. Louis.

Expectations are all over the place as the Habs prepare to kick off season 101 on October 7 against longtime rivals Toronto. While Montreal fans would be foolish to expect the same type of deep playoff run from the 2010-11 version of the team, the Habs—when healthy—have all the pieces to contend for the division crown and a third or fourth seed in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Although the story of their playoff run was without a doubt the play of Halak, Montreal also received great contributions from defencemen Hall Gill, Josh Gorges, and rookie sensation P. K. Subban. Andrei Markov battled injuries for the duration of the season, but if healthy, can be a key contributor to success on the Habs' blueline. Montreal's defence was spectacular in the postseason but fairly ordinary during the regular season, so it remains to be seen if the Habs can establish themselves as an elite defensive team early on in 2010-11.

Mike Cammalleri endeared himself to Habs fans last year with an impressive postseason, but missed 17 games in the regular season and struggled with inconsistency. Cammalleri is a premier goal-scorer and a fiery competitor. If he can stay healthy for an entire season he could hit the 40-goal mark. Brian Gionta, Tomas Plekanec, and Scott Gomez all turned in overachieving seasons for Montreal, with Plekanec accumulating 70 points and playing in all 82 regular season games. If their forwards are playing well, Montreal can beat any team in the NHL, but can the Habs survive a scoring drought?

Goaltending is the number one story in Montreal right now, just as it was in May. However, the circumstances have changed dramatically. Management threw itself firmly behind fourth-year goalie Carey Price by letting Halak walk, much to the chagrin of many Habs fans. Price came into the league with incredibly high expectations; unfortunately, the B.C.-native has found it difficult to live up to the hype. Price has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his career, but has struggled with serious inconsistency, looking mentally weak and timid in the postseason before he was pulled in favor of Halak. The pressure is on for Price to come into his own this year now that Halak has been shipped off—whether or not he can handle being between the pipes in crunch time could dictate how this season goes for Montreal.

 

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