Canadiens look to bounce back after early exit
As Montreal embarks on a season laced with expectations, most around the NHL are confused by just what this bunch is.
Are the Canadiens the team that won 13 of their first 20 games on their way to the franchise's 22nd division title last season, and first since 2007-08? Or are they the team that lost six of their last 10 regular-season games and were eliminated from the playoffs in five games by the Ottawa Senators?
The talent is certainly still in place, but the trek will be tough. Montreal, in the reconfigured NHL, is in the difficult Atlantic Division with the likes of Boston, Ottawa, Toronto and Detroit. All of those teams made the playoffs last season, and the Bruins advanced to the Stanley Cup finals.
Montreal opens vs. Toronto on Oct. 1.
Here are five things to keep an eye on throughout the season:
PRICE GOES UP AND DOWN: No market reveres its hockey players more than Montreal. And no market is more demanding than Montreal. Just ask goaltender Carey Price, who has received praise and criticism during his six seasons. Look no further than last year. Price compiled a 21-13-4 mark in 39 regular-season games, with a 2.59 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage. In the playoffs, though, it was a different story. He went 1-2 in four games, posting a 3.26.
SUPERLATIVE SUBBAN: In his third full season, P.K. Subban tied Pittsburgh's Kris Letang for the league lead in points from a defenseman (38). His 11 goals were second most in the league for a blueliner, trailing just Washington's Mike Green (12). As a result, Subban was awarded the Norris Trophy, as the league's top defenseman, and was invited to the Canadian Olympic Camp. This is a big season for Subban. He will no longer sneak up on anyone, and clearly carries ''star'' status now. But he certainly has good company around him. ''At the end of the day, those are the guys that are helping you and playing with you on the ice,'' he said of his teammates. ''I owe them a lot.''
HOMECOMING: What the first-round loss exposed was a need for offense. While the Canadiens finished the regular season tied for fourth at 3.04 goals per game, Montreal only scored nine in the five games against the Senators, and only three with the man advantage. Enter Danny Briere, who the Canadiens signed on July 4 after the right wing was released by the Flyers. Briere has 659 points in 847 regular-season games with Phoenix, Buffalo and Philadelphia, and has a nose for the goal at crunch time.
DANGEROUS DUO: Right wing Brandon Prust, signed away from the Rangers last year, provided the right punch - literally - that the Canadiens needed last season, and now, he has help. Prust was fourth in the league in fighting majors (10), and will be joined this year by heavyweight George Parros, acquired in a trade with Florida. Parros had nine fighting majors in 2013, and has fought 126 times in eight NHL seasons.
SUPER SOPHOMORES: Two key components to last year's Canadiens were rookies Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk. Gallagher, a right wing, finished third in the NHL in rookie scoring (28 points) while Galchenyuk, a center, was tied with Edmonton defenseman Justin Schultz and Chicago left wing Brandon Saad for fourth (27). What can Gallagher and Galchenyuk do for an encore?