With a first round series of Montreal – Tampa Bay looking like all but a
certainty, we’ve decided to start looking at the matchup before the regular
season even ends. Our first topic to ponder this week is who could be an
‘x-factor’ in the first round for the Habs. Our writers offer up their
picks on which players could be critical to a first round victory.
Simon Aronson: One of the obvious candidates that Habs fans are
eager to see produce is Daniel Briere. Briere was avidly defended as a free
agent signing by some due to his career track record of scoring slightly over a
point per game in the playoffs. Another player who could be an x-factor for the
Habs in the first round is Tomas Plekanec. Plekanec can play the role of
x-factor in either end of the rink. He is the Habs leading scorer among forwards
that are not on the top line, however, he is likely to make a more significant
contribution by being the centerman assigned to shut down Steven Stamkos and the
Lightning’s top line. A few other Habs who could be x-factors for the team are
Brendan Gallagher, whose feisty style of play (especially in front of the
oppositions net) seems ideally suited for the playoffs, as well as Captain Brian
Gionta who brings Stanley Cup pedigree and seems to have a knack for scoring
Matt Dilworth: There are plenty of under-achieving Canadiens
that could elevate their games in the playoffs (Briere, Bourque, Eller, and
Galchenyuk all come to mind), but I think that P.K. Subban could really be the
x-Factor in this series. The truth is that although Subban’s game hasn’t been
terrible by any means this season, but it hasn’t been Norris Trophy-worthy. I
believe Subban will take his game to another level, and the average Tampa Bay
defence will have a lot of trouble containing him. Tampa Bay plays a very
structured game, all we all know that P.K. has the potential to break down their
structure single-handedly; I wouldn’t be surprised to see him force coaching
adjustments and weaken the defensive cohesion Tampa Bay has demonstrated this
season. If Subban can play like we know he can (and if he is permitted to), I
like Montreal’s chances in the series.
Matt Gauthier: Mike Weaver who is +9 in his last 5 games. His
presence has stabilized a fragile Habs defence corps and he could be the
x-factor in shutting down the Bolts.
Brian La Rose: Lars Eller would be my pick. Assuming the
front line keeps doing what it has been doing, secondary scoring will be key for
the Habs. If Tomas Plekanec is used in a shutdown role, that extra scoring
may have to come from the bottom six. If Eller can rediscover his
offensive touch, his line can be the one to help shoulder the load in that
regard. Alternatively, if Eller’s confidence improves, he may be able to
help out more on the defensive end which could free up Plekanec and his line to
play more of a scoring role. Either way, it’s shaping up for Eller to play
an important role in the opening round.
Kevin Meldrum: Alex Galchenyuk.
Norm Szcyrek: Alex Galchenyuk. He has had a slow recovery since
coming back from his injury. There’s nothing like the second season to give a
player who has underperformed a chance to shine.
Mitchell Tierney: Carey Price. Everything starts and ends in
the playoffs with him. He is the x-factor to the entire thing, so why not
consider him the first round x-factor? He has played some of his best hockey all
season against the Lightning and will need to continue to do so in the playoffs.
These will be low scoring games, and have been all year. With the way the team
has struggled to beat Ben Bishop they will need Price to keep the score as low
as possible. Having a big first round is also crucial for him. The more notches
he gets in his playoff belt the better he will perform in the post season