Henrik Lunqvist; Travis Moen; Roman Hamrlik;

2011-12 season preview: Montreal Canadiens

2010-11 record: 44-30-8, 96 points; 2nd in Northeast, 6th in the East.

Playoffs: Lost to Boston 4-3 in Eastern quarterfinals

Sure, they didn’t make it to the Eastern Conference finals like they did in 2010, but the Habs still played over their heads at times last season. That included the guy who took over for one-time hero Jaroslav Halak, as Carey Price showed why Montreal’s front office made the brave decision to side with him and let Halak leave. The Canadiens took the eventual Stanley Cup champions to overtime in Game 7, but Nathan Horton’s goal ended their season in an instant.


The Canadiens scored the lowest amount of goals (216) of any team who made the playoffs. Ultimately, Jacques Martin’s teams don’t get to where they are by blowing their opponents out with staggering offense and there’s little reason to believe that will change this season.

Montreal parted ways with depth players such as Benoit Pouliot and decided to make one splashy move by signing former Hurricanes power forward Erik Cole to a risky contract. Cole brings a nice mix of scoring punch and flat-out punch to a team heavy in ‘finesse’ forwards, but the worry is that he’ll falter without an All-Star center like Eric Staal. (He certainly stumbled in his only experiences outside Carolina with Edmonton.)

That being said, it would be pretty cool to see an ‘All-American’ Canadiens line of Cole, Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez. Speaking of Gomez, the Habs hope that he will bounce back from a lousy season, even if the chances of Gomez justifying his oft-cited price tag are close to none. It wouldn’t hurt if the team could find a way to motivate Andrei Kostitsyn either – he was in full-on pout mode this offseason.

Max Pacioretty’s attempt to bounce back from that notorious Zdeno Chara hit ranks as one of the potential ‘feel-good’ stories of the season.


The bad news is that Andrei Markov’s knee is still a problem. The good news is that the Habs made the playoffs without him last season, as the underrated Russian defenseman missed all but seven games.

Still, that puts a lot of pressure on a Habs’ defense that lost valuable all-around guy Roman Hamrlik and suddenly expensive scoring blueliner James Wisniewski. That probably means P.K. Subban will shoulder an even greater burden as he increasingly works his way up to being the Canadiens’ ‘go-to-guy’ on the blue line. Such a situation smells a bit like Buffalo resting too much of their hopes on Tyler Myers last season, but we’ll wait and see. (Subban doesn’t lack confidence, for whatever that’s worth.)

On paper, this defense is somewhere between questionable and awful.


Perhaps even more than last season, this campaign will be ‘The Carey Price Show’ in Montreal. He played a stunning 72 games last season, notching 38 wins and an outstanding .923 save percentage. Those numbers might go down a touch because of the declining defense in front of him, although a contract year should give him motivation to plug many of the leaks.

His backup is a slight downgrade. Alex Auld was a steady, if unspectacular backup, while his replacement, Peter Budaj, has had an up-and-mostly-down career with Colorado. Budaj has one benefit though: he’s carried the ball as a top or 1a/1b goalie plenty of times before. He has three seasons with a considerable workload: 57 games played in 2006-07, 56 in 08-09 and 45 last season. Of course, his results were mediocre, but at least Budaj is familiar with that role in case something happens to Price.


Martin isn’t much of a ‘charmer’ – at least when he’s in head coach mode – but he might not get enough credit for yielding strong results with whatever roster is put in front of him. (He probably deserves at least a partial mulligan for failing in Florida, because everyone fails in Florida.)

This season will test Martin’s strategic skills. As mentioned before, that defense looks pretty lousy on paper. It should be interesting to see if he can make it all work.

Breakout candidate

OK, so Subban already ‘broke out’ in a way last season. Still, going from ‘obvious up-and-comer’ to ‘probable All-Star’ ranks as a breakthrough in its own right. With all the problems on Montreal’s blue line, the power play will likely go through Subban’s talented hands. Don’t be surprised if he flirts with 50-plus points and big minutes, as long as he doesn’t get in trouble for his occasional mischievous moments.

Best-case scenario

The Canadiens ride a cushy schedule to a Northeast title as Price earns serious Vezina (maybe even Hart?) Trophy buzz. Martin finds ways to minimize the team’s problems and maximize Subban’s output. Cole clicks with his linemates while Gomez gets his act together. Montreal makes a deep playoff run to shake off whatever Halakian monkey remains on Price’s back.


An easy schedule should help Montreal achieve the usual: squeaking into the playoffs as a seventh or eight seed. Gomez should improve merely based on how awful he was last season. Cole won’t live up to his contract, but might provide a rare physical element. Price will play just as well as last season, although a leakier defense will keep his numbers from completely showing it.

The Habs have a chance to be frisky in the playoffs, but a limited defense and mediocre (if opportunistic) offense will keep their ceiling low. Michael Cammalleri will probably still score a ton of postseason goals, though.

Don’t assume Fleury will be traded, says Penguins GM

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 02:  Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on from the bench in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Washington Capitals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 2, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Just because Matt Murray signed an extension doesn’t mean Marc-Andre Fleury‘s days in Pittsburgh are numbered.

That was the message today from Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, after Murray re-upped through 2019-20.

“The focus seems to be on what happens with Marc-Andre, but let’s let this play itself out first,” Rutherford said, per the Post-Gazette. “Let’s not just presume that Marc is automatically out. He’s been the franchise goalie here, he is a terrific person, he’s a terrific player and I think that assumption, we’re getting a little bit ahead of ourselves.”

This wouldn’t be such a hot topic if there was no expansion draft in June. But there is, and when it takes place, each team will only be allowed protect one goalie. And if the Penguins don’t trade Fleury, they’ll be obligated to protect him, unless he’s willing to waive his no-movement clause.

Protecting Fleury would, of course, leave Murray as a prime candidate to be chosen by Las Vegas. Unless, that is, Rutherford could strike a deal with George McPhee to, say, send Vegas a draft pick or player, in return for Vegas not picking Murray. Yes, that kind of deal is allowed.

So it’s complicated.

At this point in time, it’s quite possible that Rutherford doesn’t know what he’s going to do. The season is still young, and it remains to be seen which goalie will emerge as the starter in Pittsburgh. If it’s Murray, Fleury might want to be a starter elsewhere and Rutherford’s decision will be an easy one.

If it’s Fleury, the decision could be tougher. While keeping both goalies would be nice, it would also be expensive. Next season, Fleury and Murray will make a combined cap hit of $9.5 million, and there’s only one net.

Again, though, a decision doesn’t have to be made now.

“Our focus this year is winning,” said Rutherford, “and we’ll deal with the expansion draft at the appropriate time.”

Goalie nods: Price to make long-awaited season debut

TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 13: Carey Price #31 of the Montreal Canadiens stands during the anthem prior to a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 13, 2013 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada. The Leafs defeated the Canadiens 5-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Leave a comment


That was the likely refrain from Habs fans on Thursday, as head coach Michel Therrien confirmed that Carey Price‘s long-awaited season debut would happen tonight, when Montreal hosts Arizona at the Bell Centre.

Price, who missed almost all of last year with a knee injury, hasn’t played since late November of 2015 (his last appearance at home was on Nov. 22.) While he did recover to backstop Canada to the World Cup of Hockey championship, he caught a nasty case of the flu prior to the start of the regular season, and sat for the Canadiens’ first three games of the year.

Price’s backup, Al Montoya, did incredibly well in relief, going 2-0-1 with a 1.30 GAA and .926 save percentage.

Speaking of backups, the Coyotes will have theirs between the pipes tonight as Louis Domingue makes his first start of the season, in place of the injured Mike Smith. Smith was returned to Arizona today to be re-evaluated by team doctors.


— Good matchup in Boston, where Tuukka Rask and the B’s host Cory Schneider and the Devils.

John Gibson is back for the Ducks, after allowing two goals on 28 shots in a loss to New Jersey on Tuesday. He’ll be up against Steve Mason, who gets the nod for Philly after replacing Michal Neuvirth in a defeat to Chicago.

— The Stanley Cup Final rematch between San Jose and Pittsburgh has a slightly different look: Martin Jones, the Sharks’ usual starter, is in goal but Marc-Andre Fleury, who backed up Matt Murray last spring, goes for the Pens. Murray is out with a hand injury.

— It’s Braden Holtby versus Roberto Luongo as the Caps visit the Panthers in Florida.

— Colorado goes right back to Semyon Varlamov after he allowed three goals on 40 shots in Tuesday’s loss to Washington. Ben Bishop is in goal for the Lightning.

Jhonas Enroth makes his Maple Leafs debut in Minnesota. He’ll go up against Devan Dubnyk.

— The Kings will try their luck with Peter Budaj tonight against Dallas. Budaj replaces the ineffective Jeff Zatkoff, who replaced the injured Jonathan Quick. The Stars are going with Kari Lehtonen.

— After Chad Johnson started the last two games, Brian Elliott regains the net for Calgary. He’ll be up against Eddie Lack, who allowed four goals on 31 shots in Sunday’s loss to Vancouver.

Jake Allen versus Cam Talbot tonight in Edmonton, as the Oilers host the Blues.

Jacob Markstrom makes his third straight start for the Canucks, who host the Sabres. Ryan Miller will return to back up after missing Tuesday’s win over the Blues with “tightness.” For Buffalo, it looks like Robin Lehner in goal.

An encouraging start for the Leafs, except for the blown leads

OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 12: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his first career NHL goal against the Ottawa Senators with team mates Jake Gardiner #51, Nikita Zaitsev #22 and Martin Marincin #52 at Canadian Tire Centre on October 12, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Toronto Maple Leafs are a young team, and they showed it last night when they jumped out to a 4-0 lead in Winnipeg, only to lose, 5-4, in overtime.

Winnipeg scored three times in the third and Patrik Laine completed his hat trick in overtime, marking the second time this young season that the Jets had won a game they trailed 4-1 after 40 minutes.

“They got better in the third and, in the end, you get what you get,” said Leafs coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Sun. “It’s disappointing, you want to shut the game down.”

Frederik Andersen had another tough outing. The Leafs’ starting goalie allowed five goals for the second time this season. After three starts, his save percentage sits at just .876. It’s still very early, and he did play well Saturday, but it’s a story worth monitoring given he’s signed through 2020-21 with a $5 million cap hit.

Overall, though, it’s been an encouraging start for the blue and white. Auston Matthews and William Nylander have been a dangerous duo offensively, even if Babcock would like them to be better defensively. Mitch Marner has shown well; he scored his first NHL goal on Saturday. The Leafs have had a chance to win all three of their games. They did win one of them; they blew third-period leads in the two others, falling both times in overtime.

Toronto plays again tonight in Minnesota, then finishes its road trip Saturday in Chicago.

Backup Jhonas Enroth is scheduled to be in goal against the Wild, his first regular-season start as a Leaf.

Auditions for Gaudreau-Monahan linemate in Calgary continue

CALGARY, AB - JANUARY 7: Johnny Gaudreau #13 (L) of the Calgary Flames confers with his teammate Sean Monahan #23 during a break in play against the Detroit Red Wings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on January 7, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

One of the most appealing — and vacant — forward positions in the league will have a new look on Thursday night, as Alex Chiasson gets his chance to skate with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan on Calgary’s top line.

That spot was initially held by Kris Versteeg, who turned down a contract in Edmonton partly because of the opportunity to play with Gaudreau and Monahan. Versteeg got his shot, but didn’t have much success — no goals, just one assist through the first four games — and was replaced by Chiasson during Tuesday’s 4-3 OT win over the Sabres.

Chiasson, 26, is an interesting candidate. He broke into the NHL with Dallas under current Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan — scoring six goals and seven points in seven games — and has, at times, shown offensive promise.

He scored 13 goals and 35 points for the Stars during the ’13-14 campaign, and 11 goals and 26 points for Ottawa two years ago. The Boston University product fell on hard times after that, though — his offense really dried up for the Sens last season, and he was flipped to Calgary in exchange for d-man Patrick Sieloff.

The goal, it would seem, is to find the next Jiri Hudler. The veteran Czech winger enjoyed a terrific year playing with Gaudreau and Monahan in ’14-15, scoring a career-high 31 goals and 76 points.