What does the average Habs fan have to look forward to next season? The lineup is almost complete. As Gauthier said on Tuesday, July 6: “The nucleus of players that we built last year are back,” along with the “identity and chemistry that really helped us in the playoffs” which is why, he said, they wanted to sign Tomas Plekanec.
So now that Plekanec is here for what we hope will be a long, productive 6 years, let’s analyze what the team will look like in October.
First up, the goaltenders. While fans are waiting somewhat anxiously for Carey Price to sign on the dotted line and make it official, he is the number one goaltender, as Gauthier has made it abundantly clear. While Price, picked 5th overall in 2005, had tremendous success in the World Juniors and led the Hamilton Bulldogs to a Calder Cup while playing all of 2 regular season games, he has had a so-so NHL career.
In 2008-09, Price won 23 games and lost 16. He showed flashes of talent, but seemed unable to deal well with losses and living in the fishbowl that is Montreal.
In the 09-10 campaign, amidst an epic goaltender controversy, Price lost his
#1 job to Jaroslav Halak. Halak, with seeming sheer force of will, took the Canadiens all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, sailing into history and the hearts of Habs fans all over.
Gauthier could not conceivably keep Price, Halak and Plekanec, so he signed Plekanec to keep the ‘nucleus’ intact and decided giving Price another chance was better than praying Halak wasn’t a one-year wonder.
I expect Price to up both his physical and emotional game. I think he knows what management and fans expect of him and I only hope he understands the importance of being the best he can be and not folding after one bad goal. I suspect that sitting on the sidelines actually went a long way towards maturing this young man, of whom we expect great things. Of course, this unbridled optimism will last until the first puck hurtles towards our Number One goalie, but we’ll deal with that when we get there.
Alex Auld knows exactly what his role will be: support and backup our #1 and please, no scandals or superhuman efforts.
On to the guys who will help Price and Auld. Andrei Markov had ACL surgery and while Gauthier has said that he could be back for the start of the season, there are opinions that this will not happen. We all know Markov’s value and the way he seems to make the team better just by being on the ice. While injuries have started plaguing the star defenceman, they have both been of a freakish nature so he cannot be considered injury-prone. We hope management will allow Markov all the time he needs to heal properly, as he did not seem 100% when he rushed back for the playoff push.
We hope that P.K. Subban will partner Markov, given Markov’s propensity to greatly improve his partners. While P.K. was absolutely astonishing in some playoff games, there were a few weak games as well. He will benefit tremendously from Markov’s expert tutelage.
Jaroslav Spacek and Roman Hamrlik will be just fine as long as they don’t play too many minutes. It would also be much appreciated if Spacek could contribute on the second power play unit like he did in Buffalo. This past season the Habs suffered greatly on the PP by relying too much on Andrei Markov in the games he played, or on Marc-Andre Bergeron. It would be fantastic for the D to help the PP scoring.
This brings us to the third defence pairing of Gill and Gorges, who could easily be considered the second pair as well. I think it would be a terrific idea to rotate Gill with O’Byrne so that Gill doesn’t get overplayed and O’Byrne underplayed. This would ensure that everybody stays fresh for the playoffs. This year’s non-usage of Mara proves this point as the older defencemen ran out of gas as the playoffs went on.
Expect a solid year from our defence, all of whom proved themselves in the playoffs. As for the goaltenders, well, Price will be watched carefully and Auld should be a solid backup.