2010-2011 NHL season preview: Montreal Canadiens

GYI0060552015-cammalleri-mcisaac-getty.jpgLast season: (39-33-10, 88 points, 4th in Northeast Division, 8th in Eastern Conference) In what was a highly frustrating regular season for fans, edging into the playoffs in the final days of the season turned into a miraculous run through the playoffs to the conference finals.

Head coach: Jacques Martin begins his second season with the Canadiens. The Habs’ miraculous playoff run may have helped him keep the wolves at bay. His curious personnel decisions as well as adherence to playing staid, boring hockey won him few friends last season. Then again, being the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens may be one of the most demanding jobs in professional sports.

Key departures: G Jaroslav Halak, F Sergei Kostitsyn, F Glen Metropolit, D Marc-Andre Bergeron, F Dominic Moore. Halak is the most noticeable guy they’ve lost. Carrying a team on your back through the playoffs makes that possible. The contributions of Metropolit as a role player will be missed, however.

Key arrivals: F Jeff Halpern, F Lars Eller, F Dustin Boyd, G Alex Auld. Halpern will fit nicely into a hybrid role to make the loss of both Metropolit and Moore go mostly unnoticed. Auld is set to be the guy who fans will yell for to start games when they get too upset with Carey Price. Their cries will be laughed at, however.

Under pressure: Without a doubt, Price is the man under the gun in Montreal. After Jaroslav Halak led the Canadiens to the playoffs and through to the Eastern Conference finals, thus securing cult hero status in Montreal, the offseason trade of Halak to St. Louis made Price’s job as the No. 1 goalie that much harder.

He’s already dealt with overzealous Montreal fans in the preseason, getting booed after a lackluster performance in his first start, so if Price thinks that poor play can fly under the radar, he’s greatly mistaken. Every start he makes for the Habs will be over-analyzed to the point of madness. Price will either succeed and stick it to his nay-sayers or he’ll crumble under the weight of great expectations. The drama will be incredible to watch play out.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for careyprice3.jpgProtecting the house: We’ve already analyzed what Price’s season is going to be like and Auld is a serviceable backup goalie just the same. That said, unless Price turns back into the guy we saw in his rookie season, the Habs goaltending is a bit weaker because they have to rely on Auld for a long stretch of time.

Defensively, Montreal could prove to be a lot of fun. Andrei Markov will return from injury soon enough and rookie P.K. Subban thrilled fans during the playoffs last season and will likely get a full year of NHL play to show what he’s capable of. There will be some hiccups since he’s still very young, but he’s going to be a joy for fans to watch. Jaroslav Spacek, Roman Hamrlik, Hal Gill, and Josh Gorges have gotten it together to help make Montreal’s defensive unit veteran strong and capable of playing well. Ryan O’Byrne could be the odd-man out or the right guy to jump in the lineup if the Habs need a little more thump along the blue line.

The top line we’d like to see: A line of Mike Cammalleri-Scott Gomez-Brian Gionta would be an outstanding offensive unit. Gomez and Gionta have the chemistry that goes back to their days with the Devils and Cammalleri is the hottest thing in Montreal since poutine. If Martin doesn’t get too allergic to offense, this would be a fun line.

Oh captain, my captain: The Habs still haven’t named a team captain as of yet. Expect any one of Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, or Andrei Markov to get the nod, however.

Street fighting man: The Habs really aren’t a fighting team so picking out the designated brawler is difficult. If you’re looking for a fight with Montreal, however, it can’t hurt to make a run at Travis Moen. The former Duck and Blackhawk is more than accustomed to putting on the foil. Just don’t expect it too often. If Ryan O’Byrne sticks around he also will make a solid dance partner.

Best-case scenario: For things to break perfect for the Habs, Cammalleri has to score like it was the playoffs all season long. Getting at least 40 goals would be a great target for him to hit. Another big season out of Plekanec and getting Gomez and Gionta to play like it was the early 2000s again would help. Markov comes back and plays like he hasn’t missed a day while also helping Subban’s game to blossom further. Oh yeah, and Price plays out of his mind. That would do the trick both on and off the ice.

Worst-case scenario: Cammalleri struggles while Price plays inconsistently enough to make it an end-of-the-world issue to the fans and media. The uncomfortable political angling of the decision to make American-born Gionta captain gets magnified to a degree that even ‘The Daily Show’ starts to pick on the team. Meanwhile the Habs miss the playoffs and run Price out of town while erecting gold statues to Halak and yearning for the ‘good ole’ days’ of when he played for the Habs. C’est terrible.

Keeping it real: Price will play just fine. Yes, the fans and media will get on him, but he’ll do just fine in Montreal. Put the torches down and stop preemptively burning that effigy. Provided that Martin doesn’t get too insane with his lineup juggling and allows the Habs potentially fun offense the room to be creative and work, Montreal should be a playoff team. They won’t land an impressive-looking seed, but checking in at 6th, 7th, or 8th would be acceptable.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale of 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, the Habs are a definitive 3. Too many things need to break right for Montreal to reach the finals and you can’t help but wonder that maybe all that magic got spent last season. They’ve got a chance to do it, but there’s a lot of questions surrounding the team to make it happen.

(Photo1: Jim McIsaac – Getty Images)

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    Van Riemsdyk trying to block out trade talk

    TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 15:  James van Riemsdyk #25 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates a goal against the Boston Bruins during an NHL game on October 15, 2016 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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    Remember those Dougie-Hamilton-to-Toronto trade rumors Brian Burke shot down last week? Well, in case you don’t, a refresher:

    The Leafs, reportedly in the market for a defenseman, were reportedly willing to part with a winger — a position Calgary is looking to upgrade — which led many to speculate on a Hamilton-for-William Nylander swap.

    Or, a Hamiton-for-James van Riemsdyk deal.

    This week, JVR responded to the banter.

    “You don’t really worry about it too much,” he said, per the Toronto Sun. “(Blocking it out) comes from experience.

    “It tends to eat at you a little bit more (when you’re younger), but now you realize it is completely out of your control and it does not really faze you as much.”

    Van Riemsdyk, who leads the Leafs with 11 goals and 20 points through 24 games this year, is fairly tantalizing as far as potential additions go. He’s on a good contract (two years left at $4.25 million per) and has been a pretty consistent scorer for the Leafs, which included a career-high 30 goals in ’13-14.

    At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, he’s got solid size and has long been viewed as one of the better power forwards going.

    This, of course, is the exact reason why Toronto would want to keep van Riemsdyk. It’s important to remember that he only turned 27 in May, and could easily be a part of the core group of Nylander, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly, Nazem Kadri et al.

    Despite winning record, Rangers ‘very aware’ they must be better

    NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 21: Head coach Alain Vigneault of the New York Rangers leaves the ice following a 5-0 defeat against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Four of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 21, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    The New York Rangers may be winning, but their head coach, Alain Vigneault, knows they need to be better.

    Hmmm…this feels familiar for some reason.

    Oh right, that’s because it was the same story last season, when the Rangers got off to a great start before tailing off then fizzling out in the playoffs.

    The Rangers head into tonight’s game in Brooklyn with a record of 17-8-1. That’s the good news.

    Here’s the bad — in five of their last six games, they’ve been held to 25 shots or fewer. On the season, their score-adjusted Corsi has fallen to 26th in the league.

    “We’re very aware and very conscious of the areas we need to be better at,” Vigneault said, per the New York Post. “We’re playing a team that’s playing real solid hockey.”

    Indeed, the Islanders are 3-0-1 in their last four, including wins over Pittsburgh and Washington.

    To be fair to the Rangers, they’ve been without Mika Zibanejad for the past seven games, and he was a big part of their early success. Tonight, they’ll also be without Michael Grabner, who’s gone back to Austria for his grandmother’s funeral.

         Read more: The new-look Rangers are dangerous on every line

    But the Rangers aren’t looking to make excuses. They’re looking instead to get back on track.

    “It’s definitely a five-man thing for us and communication and just getting on the same page again,” forward Jimmy Vesey said, per the Daily News. “It’s definitely something we need to get back to, and I think that’s kind of like the recipe for being a good team down the line and in the playoffs.”

    After waiving Enroth, Toronto signs Ramo to AHL deal

    Tampa Bay Lightning v Calgary Flames
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    Kari Ramo took another step in his return to the NHL on Tuesday, signing a PTO with the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate, the Marlies.

    The deal, first reported by TSN, comes one day after Toronto placed backup netminder Jhonas Enroth on waivers.

    “Obviously, wasn’t going good enough,” head coach Mike Babcock said of the decision to waive Enroth, per TSN. “We’re just in a situation where we’re making a change.”

    (Enroth cleared today, FYI.)

    As for Ramo, he’s an interesting figure. The 30-year-old suffered a season-ending ACL tear in Calgary this past February and, at the time of the injury, led all Flames netminders in starts, with 33.

    Prior to that, he’d rebounded from a poor start to the year — which included Calgary waiving him — and, in January, then-head coach Bob Hartley called Ramo “probably one of the hottest goalies in the league.”

    So it’s easy to see why Toronto would be interested.

    Of course, Ramo is coming off a major knee injury and has basically been shelved for 10 months. He’s been practicing with the Leafs, but this ATO with the Marlies will give him a chance to test the knee in a game situation, and knock off some of the rust that’s surely accumulated.

    Ramo is believed to be close to receiving medical clearance for a return to action.

    Justin Schultz is having a pretty good season

    PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 20:  Justin Schultz #4 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates with the puck in the first period during the game against the San Jose Sharks at PPG PAINTS Arena on October 20, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
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    It was Justin Schultz‘s kind of game last night in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins beat the Senators, 8-5, in a fun, back-and-forth affair.

    Schultz was in on a pair of Pittsburgh goals, scoring one and assisting on another. The 26-year-old defenseman now has three goals and eight assists in 26 games. And on a good team that can put him in a position to succeed, he’s a plus-13.

    Schultz, of course, joined the Penguins last season in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers. He won a Stanley Cup in June, then re-signed for one year and $1.4 million in July.

         Read more: Justin Schultz quietly making big impact on Penguins power play

    “He deserves a lot of credit for the effort, the commitment level he’s shown,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said Friday, per the Post-Gazette.

    Sullivan too deserves credit, for playing Schultz to his strengths and bringing out the best in an imperfect player. An offensive defenseman, Schultz is not being asked to do much of the heavy lifting defensively. He starts a lot of shifts in the attacking zone, and he doesn’t play very often against the opposition’s best.

    Last night, Schultz displayed his offensive instincts and abilities, jumping up in the rush to take a pass from Evgeni Malkin, then burying it for the go-ahead goal.

    Schultz ended up logging 19:54 of ice time, including 16:20 at even strength, the most among Penguins d-men.