In what can only be considered a "typical" opener to the Montreal Canadiens
2013/2014 season, the home club were beaten and bruised by the well-coached
Maple Leafs of Toronto. Despite a standout performance from bulked-up centre
Lars Eller and added toughness in the imposing form of George Parros, Les
Glorieux couldn’t manage a full sixty minutes, dropping the both game 4-3 and a
couple of players to the medical team – including the aforementioned Parros
whose night ended with a chauffeured drive on a stretcher directly to hospital.
While there were certainly encouraging signs a-plenty, there were moments that
will grey coach Michel Therrien and palpitate the Canadiens faithful. As it’s
only the first game of the new campaign, however, conclusions will have to wait.
That doesn’t, of course, preclude the analysis of trends or the audacity of
How about that Eller? If last year was his break-out campaign, then could this
be his party? Adding significant muscle over the offseason seems to have paid
off exceptionally; watching him drive the net while dragging defenders can only
leave Hab fans in near rapture at the sight of a big, dominating centre (now if
he was only given more ice time).
Sophomores Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher were inspirational. Both drove
the net and whilst the Galy-with-one-L showed more dangle and savoir-faire,
Gally-with-two-L’s didn’t disappoint displaying an extraordinary work ethic and
a penchant for getting in spaces much larger men routinely avoid.
While Carey Price allowed an angst-inducing breakaway goal (let’s avoid the
shootout, shall we), he made a series of outstanding saves to keep the Montreal
close. Indeed, if it weren’t for Price, this one was long out of reach long
before Eller scored his second late to bring the Habs within one. Price’s game
was rough at times, but there was enough on display to offer encouragement that
his continued work with Stéphane Waite can produce more dividends.
Travis Moen, Brandon Prust, and Parros played a great fourth-line game bringing
energy and physicality that the club requires consistently. This was probably
Moen’s best game in over a year, and Prust is such a pleasure to watch as he
pushes opponents around yet still plays with some real talent.
The coaching staff was surely hoping for more from the Montreal defence, both
individually and as a team unit. There were too many moments when the team
looked disjointed from the back end, and there were too many individual elements
of the corps that were prone to error. While GM Marc Bergevin worked to add
depth, there are questions that need to be asked.
PK Subban and Josh Gorges played as advertised and were effective in their
designated roles as a #1 and #4, however others emerged from the Leaf loss with
questions surrounding them.
- Raphael Diaz is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get player. He’s generally good on
the puck but defensively he’s, to put it mildly, worrisome. As a powerplay
specialist, he’s everything you want in a defender, but put him in his own zone
and be ready to take your heart meds.
- Diminutive Francis Bouillon has been known as, pound-for-pound, one of the more
devastating players in the game. Unfortunately, there comes a time when creeping
age sends abilities over a cliff. As a depth guy, Cube is probably still
effective, however, as a regular there must be trepidation about his game.
That’s not to say he can’t still bring it, but Father Time is looming.
- If you were one of the many suffering from those palpitations, then aging
all-star Andrei Markov may have been a major cause. To say he’s lost a step
would be a generous assessment considering how thouroughly he was beaten in the
foot race for the puck on Tyler Bozak’s shorthanded goal. Nonetheless, Markov
still has the ability to position himself effectively and he still does so many
things so well that go unnoticed. Plus, it’s only one game and, in this
particular case, his pedigree should at least offer hope that he’ll adapt his
game to any shortcomings that have developed.
- Rookie Jarred Tinordi should earn only positive reviews for his efforts. He played the game
within his abilities and even TKO’d Carter Ashton. Yes, Tinordi’s still
learning, and yes another stretch in the AHL would probably benefit him greatly,
but he doesn’t look out of place, and one could see a long stretch played
prudently in positions to succeed could very well lead to his permanent
Moving forward, considerable print has gone to discussing the team’s size and
grit up front, and Bergevin took the opportunity this summer to add Parros to,
at the very least, intimidate the opposition into taking less liberties with his
tiny attackers. Unfortunately, that kind of move doesn’t stop the
moment-to-moment play where the smaller guys are simply muscled off the puck.
Bergevin has mentioned the acquisition of a power forward as being difficult to
impossible, but one has to wonder if occasionally sacrifices are needed to
acquire the essential elements. Would Montreal be better off overpaying to add
significant size up front, or is this season another transitional year until
more of that size develops in-system? It’s a tough question for another day, but
the fallout from a lack of size was unfortunately evident against Toronto.
Players like David Desharnais, Daniel Brière and Brian Gionta were largely
invisible. Tomas Plekanec played reasonable considering his linemates efforts,
leaving only Gallagher as a small guy playing exceptionally large. Of the actual
big guys on the top three lines, the continually resurrecting Max Pacioretty was
injured early, but managed to come back, though he was obviously playing hurt,
and Rene Bourque was legless for long stretches.
- Desharnais is going to have to find his game quickly or he’s going to find
himself first watching from the press box then from another city (if anyone will
take him). Stating early that he knew he needed to come out much harder this
season, his first game was disappointingly anonymous. Losing Pacioretty would be
a reasonable excuse except for the fact that he produced and did nothing both
before and after. As a small centre the time to make his case is now, otherwise
he’ll surely be gone.
- Brière and Gionta are two guys looking to find a groove, but game one wasn’t a
good start. While the former needs to gel with the club as a whole and his
linemates specifically, the latter needs to gel with the game again as he comes
off another injury riddled year. Patience is required with these veterans, but
they need to find their respective games quickly.
- Bourque absolutely must skate and drive the net. If he’s not north-south, then
he’s all but useless. He has the ability to dominate at times, but his work-rate
needs to ramp up massively.
Yes, it’s just game one, but it posed many questions fans of the Canadiens will
enjoy contemplating as the season unfolds. For instance, with a healthy Douglas
Murray and Alexei Emelin, will the team have a group of six defenders that can
intimidate consistently? Will Bergevin lose patience with Desharnais if the
centre fails to perform and subsequently move him for a different piece of the
Stop two during the regular season roller coaster sees the Broad Street Bullies
coming to town; a game where Parros will surely be missed and the defence
significantly tested. Better yet, it’s opportunity two to answer some questions
and move forward positively.