If the Habs are going to beat Toronto in their upcoming series, they’ll need their top players to contribute plus have a couple of other players step up. Who could those players be? Our writers make their picks for Montreal’s X-Factors.
Terry Costaris: Picking an X-Factor player is never easy. There are obvious players who are expected to be difference makers. Montreal can’t beat Toronto if its goaltending, defence, and offence are not all at peak performance. On the offensive end, one might consider Nick Suzuki as a potential X-Factor but most of us are expecting good things from him.
To me, a true X-Factor player is someone who comes out of nowhere, like a Ken Dryden, Chris Chelios or Patrick Roy and Claude Lemieux in years past. For me, Jesperi Kotkaniemi could be that person. Montreal needs players down the middle to win this series and if Kotkaniemi comes in mentally fresh, he could be a key difference-maker.
I tend to agree with most pundits that the Habs will lose this series but it would not shock me in the least if they win it. the Toronto Maple Leafs are a very good team but they are not a juggernaut.
If I have learned anything watching hockey these many years it’s that the prognosticators get a lot of things wrong. Each team is two key injuries or one hot goaltender away from elimination. Kotkaniemi has the skillset to be a game-breaker. He could be someone capable of altering the Canadiens’ dynamics in a very positive way. The regular season is over. The slate is clean – if he sees it this way.
So, Jesperi Kotkaniemi will be my X-Factor pick. If I’m right, that would be mint.
Allan Katz: The X-Factor, a fun way to say – “Who is going to surprise us and lead the Habs to victory against Toronto?” Now many people would have you believe that only an intervention by God herself could bring the Habs victory. I spoke to her about it and she told me that she loved the Habs but prefers to let the players decide who wins. She did reassure me that She too dislikes the Maple Leafs and has made sure they go nowhere for years on end. She did hint that something during the series will change things around for a surprise ending. She called it the XY factor and I will address that. For the X-Factor, I almost want to pick Evans since he seems to have matured as an NHL player over the past few weeks but I’m going to go with Artturi Lehkonen. He too is maturing before our eyes and has a ton of solid history backing him up. I think he’s going to contribute offensively and thrive defensively. It seems the two players are peaking at just the right time. As far as the XY factor is. I believe that T.O. might take the first two games and then Caufield will enter the lineup … and then … magic.
Brian La Rose: My original pick was Alexander Romanov where his flashes of top-four upside during the season were going to be critical in helping shut down Toronto’s quietly deep attack. But now he’s been scratched, leaving me to virtually crumple that write-up in the process.
Let’s stick with the defence though. Ben Chiarot had a breakout performance in the bubble last summer but he hasn’t quite been that same player this season. Now, he’s being asked to play on his off-side with Brett Kulak in a role that’s more optimal for him in terms of ice time. Instead of complementing Shea Weber, he’s now being asked to be the defensive anchor on his pairing. A good showing from him would allow the Habs to comfortably roll three pairings at even strength. If he struggles though, we know there’s a short leash for Kulak and the end result could be Weber having to get overused along with the top pairing. The better Chiarot plays, the fresher the back end is. He’s not getting a lot of attention but there is a fair bit riding on his shoulders making him a quietly important X-Factor in the process.
Kevin Leveille: I’m going to name two X-Factors for the Habs. The first is Nick Suzuki. The reason is simple. I believe The Habs have better depth scoring, defending, and goaltending. There is little debate that the Leafs have the better top-end talent. However, Suzuki has been going at a little more than a point per game down the stretch. If this continues and can mitigation some of the Leafs’ top-heavy advantage, then I like Montreal’s chances.
The second wild card is Dominique Ducharme. I’ve been underwhelmed with his decision-making thus far and the first few days of practice have been more of the same. I mean seriously, is he afraid of the vets on the team? Can he coach as a fourth seed and understand that the Habs aren’t “supposed” to win this? Throw caution to the wind and play kids that have the potential to surprise as opposed to the vets who appear to have little left to offer. Will he wait until it’s too late to do this? The sooner he does it, the sooner the team can play loose and allow the Leafs to have the world of expectations on their shoulders. Your move, rookie interim coach.
Paul MacLeod: The X-Factors for the Canadiens will be Jake Evans, Artturi Lekhonen, and Paul Byron. If that line can maintain their end of season surge, they will be a key part of a Montreal upset. Other candidates are Eric Staal if he can somehow regain his game or preferably Jesperi Kotkaniemi if he gets into the lineup. In any event, the entire team is going to need to step up their game to beat the Leafs.
Naqeeb Shaikh: Corey Perry. He’s a true competitor. He may not be a speed demon, but his hockey smarts are valuable along with his leadership and playoff experience. I think for him last year he was instrumental in the Dallas Stars’ run to the Stanley Cup Final including three critical goals against the Lightning. After a disappointing result in that series, I think he’ll be hungrier to guide the troops to get to the finals to have a better result in the finals if that happens.
Oddly, I don’t want the Habs to have too much success because as crazy as it may seem I’d like to see Patrick Roy as GM or move on from Bergevin; a new vision is needed in my opinion, however unlikely that may seem. Hopefully gets offered a deal to come back for one more year and sticks around.
Norm Szcyrek: I believe Corey Perry is a perfect example of an X-Factor to help the Canadiens succeed in the first round. Perry is a tough forward to play against with an aggravating style that irritates the opposition while managing his own emotions. In the past, he has elevated his game in the postseason which is always a helpful factor. Although he is a bottom-six forward for Montreal, he plays a solid two-way game and has surprised the opposition frequently with an unexpected pass to an open teammate, leading to a goal. During the regular season with the Habs, Corey has shown high intelligence with and without the puck, and given his power forward size and good hands, he is capable of providing that and more. There’s also the consideration, that Perry knows he’s a veteran near the end of his career, and there’s nothing like the playoffs to get some extra competitive juices going to help his team towards the ultimate goal, hockey’s silver “holy grail”.
Dave Woodward: In this scribbler’s view, the X-Factor in this series is each team’s goaltenders. Carey Price is coming off a long layoff due to injuries. And while he shows flashes of his younger self, his consistently inconsistent and injury-riddled season leaves many pundits wondering if this future Hall of Famer simply has too many miles on him.
For the Leafs, Jack Campbell will be the Game 1 starter. Campbell has never started a playoff game. He has earned the starting job this season but it remains to be seen whether Campbell can backstop the Leafs to their first playoff series win since 2004.
Although some still refer to Carey Price as the world’s best goalie, his performance and the numbers in recent years suggest otherwise. However, he showed last year in the bubble that when Price is healthy and well-rested, he can be a difference-maker. Campbell, on the other hand, has no track record in the post-season.
The Leafs have the elite, skilled forwards the Canadiens lack and that will most likely be the difference in the series. However, if Price performs like he did last season in the bubble and Jack Campbell falters, perhaps Carey Price (or even Jake Allen if Price cannot go the whole series) could be the X-Factor.