Montreal Canadiens: The Habs Posses All of the Key Pieces to Make A Long Run in the Playoffs. But Just How Far They May Go is Yet to Be Seen!
The Montreal Canadiens have a shaky lead in the Atlantic Division. They’re up one point over the Ottawa Senators, who have a game in hand. But the Canadiens could be making a strategic move, as the winner of the Atlantic is likely to face the New York Rangers. That’s a scary thought this year.
Mar 12, 2017; Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) (Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)
Carey Price is a stellar goaltender. While he’s in the middle of a down year, his stats still land him firmly in the top 10. He’s got a 2.27 GAA (good for 8th in the league) and a .922 SV% (good for 7th).
He’s had career years where he’s been worthy of a Vezina and a Hart. Price likely remains the best goaltender in the NHL.
In the playoffs, sometimes all a team needs is a hot goaltender. Price has proven capable of leading a team through the playoffs before. He helped get the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2014. Unfortunately, Price got hurt in the first game of that series.
But before he was hurt, Price was posting a .919 SV% and a 2.35 GAA. Those are really good numbers in the playoffs, especially on a team without much offense or defense. Carey Price was the backbone of that team and could do it again.
Especially because this version of the Canadiens is better than the 2014 iteration. They have a better defense, some offense, and they won’t rely entirely on Price. Which means that if Price puts up a similar performance this year, the Canadiens could go deep.
Offensive Fire Power & Grit
This year, the Canadiens have added to their offense. With the additions of Alexander Radulov and Andrew Shaw in the offseason, they added both speed and grit. Both Radulov and Shaw have put up double digits in goals and assists. Radulov currently has 47 points and Shaw has 26.
Feb 28, 2017; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens forward Alexander Radulov (47) passes the puck to teammate Max Pacioretty (67) as Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones (3) defends during the third period at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
This Montreal Canadiens offense can be scary. In 22 of their wins this season, they’ve had 4 goals or more. Which means when the Canadiens are hot, there is no one hotter. And if they go on a streak in the playoffs, the Canadiens can be dangerous.
The Canadiens have eight players with over 10 goals. They have 12 with over 20 points. It’s not only their stars that have become explosive, it’s the depth that Montreal supports, as well as the fact that they can score from the point, with great offensive defensemen like Andrei Markov and Shea Weber.
The Canadiens defense has also improved since that 2014 ECF run. Not only did they trade PK Subban for Shea Weber in a “win in the now” transaction, they have added depth like Benn. The Canadiens defense now consists of a top pairing of Markov and Weber but has a lot of depth.
Nathan Beaulieu, one of the Canadiens‘ bottom pairing defensemen, has 23 points.They have an explosive ability at every pairing of their defense, and it’s not just the hard shooting Weber.
They can also protect Price well, and besides a 10-0 Columbus loss, they’ve got one of the best defense/goaltending situations. In fact, if you take away that one loss, the Canadiens are the fourth best defense/goaltending tandem in the league.
In the playoffs, that defense and goaltender could come in handy, especially against tough Eastern teams. The Penguins are all offense, and so are the Rangers. If anybody can lock that down, it’s probably the Canadiens.
Lastly, the Canadiens have improved their team this year by changing coaches. When former Canadiens coach Claude Julien became available, the Canadiens were the team to change coaches for him. They shed coach Michele Therrien, who was unable to lead a competent Canadiens team to the Cup.
They shed coach Michel Therrien, who was unable to lead a competent Canadiens team to the Cup. That switch has improved the Canadiens, and while their lead has evaporated, it’s not because of lack of effort.
Carey Price has begun playing better. In the last three games, before Therrien was fired, Price posted SV% of .846, .840, and .889. He allowed 4 goals in each game. Since then, he’s touched .870 just once and has posted a shutout, and other highs of .964, .963, and two games of .960.
If Claude had improved just Carey’s game, that would be enough. After all, Price has proven himself capable of carrying a team when playing at his best. But that’s not where the turnaround has ended under Julien.
They’ve won 9 games and lost just four. One of them was the first game under Julien when the Canadiens were coming off their five-day break. That’s not been an easy game for any team this year, and very few have won it.
The Canadiens are getting hot, and it’s partly because of the coaching change. Julien also has better playoff experience and has won a Stanley Cup. He’s much more qualified (and able) to lead the Canadiens on a deep playoff run.