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.

Offense

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.

Defense

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.

Goalies

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.

Coaching

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.

Reality

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.

Eichel makes everyone look silly, Varlamov gets the early hook

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You know, with Connor McDavid hogging so much attention, it’s about time that Jack Eichel provided us with another awesome goal.

That tally came at the Colorado Avalanche’s (and especially Semyon Varlamov‘s) expense as that was the Buffalo Sabres first shot of the game.

Patrick Roy apparently felt like this just wasn’t Varlamov’s afternoon, as Colorado’s head coach decided to pull him after Varly allowed two goals on as many shots. Evander Kane nabbed the other goal for Buffalo.

You can watch the goal in the video above, which reminds us that “Eichel Tower” might not be a unique pun.

Another shot of it:

Check out Kane’s goal, too:

To be fair to Varlamov, Calvin Pickard has already allowed a goal as well. The Sabres are currently off to a 3-0 lead, and maybe a small roll considering how well they played against Montreal on Friday?

NHL on NBC: Red Wings, Bruins fight for Atlantic positioning

Detroit Red Wings center Dylan Larkin (71) keeps Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) from the puck in the second period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015 in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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Both the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins are finding new ways to win these days, and while they might not be as obvious contenders as they once were, each team can still be dangerous.

Sunday’s NBC game proves enticing for plenty of reasons, yet the most obvious is that if the postseason began today, these two squads would face off in an intriguing first-round matchup.

The Bruins have taken the first two games between these teams in 2015-16, but they might be forced to face the Red Wings without crucial forward Patrice Bergeron, who may have been injured during an unlikely fight with Blake Wheeler.

Detroit features Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk as usual, although Dylan Larkin is a new, ultra-speedy forward who is worthy of plenty of attention in his own right.

While Jeff Blashill continues to establish himself following up Mike Babcock, Claude Julien recently hit a milestone with his 500th win and earned plaudits from CSNNE.com as one of the best coaches in the league.

(Speaking of milestones, Brad Richards is expected to play in his 1,100th game.)

Boston currently holds the second spot in the Atlantic with 66 points in 55 games played, but Detroit is right behind them with 65 in as many contests. With the Tampa Bay Lightning hovering nearby, each team likely recognizes this as an important game.

Goalie nods: Backups battle as Kinkaid faces Enroth

Los Angeles Kings goalie Jhonas Enroth, of Sweden, deflects a shot off the stick of a Colorado Avalanche player in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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The New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings prefer to lean on workhorse goalies Cory Schneider and Jonathan Quick respectively, but Sunday presents a change of pace.

In the Kings’ case, Jhonas Enroth is playing in part because of (what Los Angeles hopes is) a minor injury to Quick.

It’s true that the under-sized goalie sports a mediocre 4-4-1 record, but he’s given the Kings legitimate chances to win games considering his impressive (especially for a backup) save percentage of .925. Perhaps he can earn a few more reps if he plays well in what may be a tight game?

Speaking of earning more reps, Keith Kinkaid must continue to work to prove that he’s able to make the jump from AHL goalie to at least an NHL backup. The Kings aren’t likely to make it easy for him, either.

Elsewhere …

Avalanche at Sabres: Semyon Varlamov vs. Robin Lehner

Bruins at Red Wings: Possibly Tuukka Rask vs. Petr Mrazek

Blues at Lightning: Best guess – Brian Elliott vs. Ben Bishop

Flyers at Rangers: Steve Mason vs. (possibly) Henrik Lundqvist

Fight video: Someone other than Evander Kane beats up Alex Petrovic

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Bummed out on this holiday? Look on the bright side: at least you’re not as sore as Florida Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic likely is right now.

Not long after suffering three defeats at the hands/fists of Evander Kane, Petrovic likely lost another bout to Nashville Predators tough guy Anthony Bitetto.

(Note: some might consider this more of a draw, for what it’s worth. You can watch that latest fight in the video above.)

Hey, at least Bitetto didn’t taunt Petrovic after their fight …

It was a rough night for the Panthers overall, as they suffered a gruesome injury or two and fell to the Predators by a score of 5-0.