THE HABS ARE BACK! LES HABS SONT LA!
Now that the dreadful lockout is over, the Canadiens start this shortened season at home against their long time Canadian rivals the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Both teams have recovered from terrible 2011-12 seasons and gone through several changes in the off season, and the time between the end of the lockout and today. Montreal’s new GM Marc Bergevin has been diligent in architecting his new team. His counterpart Dave Nonis inherited his new title this week, but has served as the assistant GM for around 4 seasons. Both teams have new or relatively new coaches in Michel Therrien, and Randy Carlyle. Habs newcomers up front include free agents Brandon Prust and Colby Armstrong, and on the back end Francis Bouillon has returned to his native Montreal. Rookie centre Alex Galchenyuk has made the pro squad, and he’s expected to start as a winger on the second lines, between Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta. Rookie forward Brendan Gallagher will also get a chance to prove his worthiness.
Since Montreal rarely has a time where they are without controversy, the contract status of P.K. Subban fills that niche. RFA Subban is still in limbo, and neither side appears to have budged on their negotiating positions. Subban’s camp is reportedly looking for a long term contract with a top salary representing a #1 defenceman. The Habs are rumoured to be looking for a shorter term “bridge” contract at a lower salary, much like the way the team has treated young stars like Max Pacioretty and Carey Price recently. Will the team’s defensive squad adapt without their #1 blueline presence from last season? Veterans Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges, Francis Bouillon and Tomas Kaberle will be leaned on heavily, along with youngsters Alexei Emelin, Yannick Weber and Raphael Diaz.
Keys To A Habs Victory:
1. Coaching How well will the team adapt to new coach Therrien’s strategies, motivations, break out patterns and hockey philosophies?
2. Home Ice Advantage The Habs were one of the worst home teams in the league last season, which is unacceptable in one of the loudest and most exciting arenas in the league. When the team plays well, the crowd responds well and the players feed off that in the best way. The old cliche about the crowd being the 6th player on the ice is more fact than fiction in Montreal. Of course when the team plays badly, they hear it from the crowd.
3. Truculence This season’s version of the Habs has more energy, size, and toughness up front with Prust and Armstrong. A healthy Travis Moen will help greatly on the bottom two lines, as could Michael Blunden. The Habs were often pushed around last season by many other team, so having players willing to dish it back regularly will help the team’s success.
4. Health There was some concern in training camp when Tomas Plekanec reported with sore ribs based on an injury from playing in Europe. Carey Price took a “therapy” day yesterday which naturally raised some questions about his readiness for tonight’s game. Players coming back from injuries and surgeries include Andrei Markov, Brian Gionta, Rene Bourque, and Travis Moen. Fans will be watching these players closely to ensure they have returned to their playing shape.