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What’s going on with Carey Price?

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The Montreal Canadiens were expected to be one of the bottom-dwellers in the Eastern Conference this season. Instead, they’ve proven everybody wrong by getting off to an 8-5-3 start. Nothing to complain about in Montreal then, right? Guess again!

After they traded away their two best scorers in Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk, the expectation was that they’d have a hard time putting the puck in the net. That hasn’t been an issue. The Shea Weber injury was also supposed to derail their season, but the defense has sort of held up until now. So what’s the big issue that has fans up in arms? Apparently, it’s Carey Price.

Let’s make one thing clear: Price hasn’t been good enough this season. That has never been more evident than over the last few days, as he gave up bad goals in the third period against the New York Rangers on Tuesday night.

And he also gave up a couple of stinkers in Thursday’s 6-5 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres on home ice:

Canadiens using speed to overwhelm opponents

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Heading into the 2018-19 NHL season, the expectations weren’t very high for the Montreal Canadiens. After all, a team that has struggled to score goals five-on-five traded away Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk. But thanks to their newfound identity, they’ve managed to exceed all expectations  and boast a 5-2-2 through nine games.

The Canadiens don’t have a superstar up front or an elite player on defense (Shea Weber is still injured), and Carey Price hasn’t even been dominant yet, but they’ve managed to remain competitive thanks to their ability to move the puck quickly. Also, newcomers like Max Domi, Tomas Tatar, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Xavier Ouellet have fit in really nicely, and they’ve all contributed to the speed the team is playing with.

Not every player on the roster is fast, but Claude Julien and his staff have found a way to change their approach after a horrendous year in 2017-18. Coaching additions like Dominique Ducharme and Luke Richardson have also helped with that change.

When things are going well for the Canadiens, you can tell by the little time they spend in their own end. Last season, it seemed like they would get hemmed in the defensive zone all the time. Now, their defenders have found a way to move the puck quicker. The fact that the forwards have made themselves more available to receive those quick passes has helped the team get out of their own end with relative ease. Moving the puck allows the Canadiens to play a quick transition game, which eventually leads to some offensive output.

That’s why a veteran like Karl Alzner hasn’t been able to get into the lineup consistently. The Habs have favored skating defensemen like Jeff Petry, Victor Mete, Noah Juulsen, Mike Reilly and Ouellet, and it’s made all the difference.

The other interesting thing about Montreal, is that they can come at you with four lines. Some nights, Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault and Tatar will lead the way. Other times, it will be Jonathan Drouin, Domi and Artturi Lehkonen. The team has also used Kotkaniemi, Joel Armia and Paul Byron together, and they have fourth-line options that include Andrew Shaw, Matthew Peca, Charles Hudon, Nikita Scherbak and Nicolas Deslauriers.

“I wouldn’t say we’re superstars, but everybody is working hard,” Tatar said. “That’s the key. Without that, you’re not able to win a game. We have four lines rolling and everyone is chipping in. That’s a strength for sure.”

Even though they’re coming off a loss in Buffalo last night, no one predicted that they’d have just two regulation defeats in their first nine games, especially because they went up against Toronto and Pittsburgh (twice).

The biggest question mark surrounding the Canadiens is whether or not they can keep this up. Playing fast and being aggressive on the forecheck every night takes its toll on a team. Keeping that in mind, they’re not an overly big team, either, so they might wear down a little quicker, too.

When they hit the dog days of the season, they’ll need Price to be stellar. For now, they just have to find a way to keep this going for as long as they can.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

It’s Montreal Canadiens day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Montreal Canadiens.

2017-18:

29-40-13, 71 pts. (6th Atlantic Division; 14th Eastern Conference)

IN:

Max Domi
Joel Armia
Matthew Peca
Michael Chaput
Tomas Plekanec
Xavier Ouellet

OUT:

Alex Galchenyuk
Daniel Carr
Ales Hemsky

RE-SIGNED

Phillip Danault
Antti Niemi
Jacob De La Rose
Rinat Valiev

After getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs in 2017, the Canadiens put together a horribly disappointing season last year. None of their core players played well, which obviously didn’t help. Max Pacioretty didn’t score as often, Shea Weber suffered a serious injury and Carey Price wasn’t himself.

For the first time in five years, Pacioretty failed to hit the 30-goal mark. Now, he’s entering the final year of contract, and it sounds like a divorce between he and and the team is imminent. If the Habs ship their captain to another team, who will score goals for this team? They traded Alex Galchenyuk for a playmaker like Max Domi, so they don’t have any natural scorers left on the roster.

[Canadiens Day: Breakthrough | Under Pressure | Three Questions]

As for Weber, he’s fallen on hard times injury-wise. He got off to a great start (16 points in 26 games), but he eventually missed a good chunk of the season with a foot injury. The 33-year-old will also be out until at least Christmas because of knee surgery. Not having Weber will be tough overcome.

The biggest question surrounding the Canadiens upcoming season is whether or not Price can bounce back from the dismal season he had in 2017-18. He missed an extended period of time with lower-body injury and then a concussion. The team is light on talent, but if they can get Price back to where he was a few years ago, they’ll have a chance in every game they play. If he can’t get back to form, the next eight years will be incredibly long (they owe him $84 million).

This is a big year for GM Marc Bergevin. If botches a potentially Pacioretty trade, or if the team crumbles again, he might be looking for a new job. No matter what happens, it should be an interesting year in Habs land.

Prospect Pool:

Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C, 18, Assat Pori – 2018 first-round pick

The Canadiens have been searching for a number one center for years, and Kotkaniemi might finally be that guy. He’s a big body with good offensive instincts. Kotkaniemi is also capable of playing a strong all-around game. He has the ability to develop into a top-line player, but he might just need a bit more time to develop. The young Finn racked up 10 goals and 29 points in 57 games in the SM-Liiga

• Ryan Poehling, C, 19, St. Cloud State – 2017 first-round pick

Poehling made some huge strides in his second year at St. Cloud. He went from being a 13-point player in his first year to producing 31 points in 36 games last season. Like Kotkaniemi, Poehling is also big (6-foot-2, 200 pounds), but the American forward isn’t as gifted offensively. The biggest question around his game is whether or not his offensive abilities are good enough to make him a second-line center. Poehling is heading back to St. Cloud State for another year, but he could join the Canadiens next season.

Noah Juulsen, D, 21, Laval Rocket – 2015 first-round pick

Juulsen got his first taste of NHL experience during Montreal’s “lost” season last year and he certainly didn’t look out of place. He’s a good skater that can move the puck efficiently. He might not develop into a top pairing defenseman, but he’s certainly capable of being a top-four blueliner for years to come. Even though the Canadiens have several defensemen on one-way contracts, Juulsen has a pretty good shot at making the team out of camp.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

It’s Detroit Red Wings day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Detroit Red Wings.

2017-18

30-39-13, 73 points (fifth in Atlantic, 13th in Eastern Conference)
Missed playoffs

IN:

Jonathan Bernier
Thomas Vanek
Chris Terry

OUT:

Xavier Ouellet
Jared Coreau
Eric Tangradi
Ben Street

RE-SIGNED:

Dylan Larkin (yesterday)
Anthony Mantha
Mike Green
Tyler Bertuzzi
Andreas Athanasiou
Martin Frk

The 2017-18 season was rough for the Red Wings, but you could argue that it was “the right kind” of rough. Or at least close enough.

As underwhelming as the Red Wings were, they remarkably finished ahead of three other teams in the Atlantic, which says a lot about the disparity between the haves and the have-nots in that division. Nonetheless, management could continue to prattle on about the team’s “culture,” as they enjoyed some of the fruits of tanking without fully doing so.

(Granted, the team would be better served pulling off the Band-Aid, but asking Ken Holland to go to a full-on rebuild seems like a waste of energy at this point.)

The Red Wings did acknowledge reality to a decent extent during the trade deadline, sending Tomas Tatar to Vegas for three picks and Petr Mrazek to the Flyers for a lesser package. Some wanted more – was there really no market for Mike Green? – but this is about as committed as you’ll see this proud franchise get to really trying to load up on future assets.

And, hey, it paid off quite nicely.

By just about all accounts, the Red Wings nailed it with their first-rounders, seeing two interesting forwards drop to them (Filip Zadina at sixth, Joe Veleno all the way down to 30th). It was a busy draft weekend overall, as the Red Wings drafted two players in the second round, three in the third, and then had the usual selection in rounds 4-7. We may look back at those 10 selections as the turning point for a franchise that seemed to be stuck in neutral for a while after their peak window closed.

Again, the regular season wasn’t much to write home about, although it was nice to see some young players thrive.

Dylan Larkin enjoyed the best year of his NHL career, and he received a healthy contract on Friday. Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou were signed to bridge deals after promising seasons, while Tyler Bertuzzi showed some evidence that he could be a useful pro for Detroit.

There are some good things to consider, even if there’s also some darkness to wade through (Henrik Zetterberg‘s health issues are a real bummer) and confusion to shake away (did this team really need to hand contracts to veterans Green and Vanek?).

The Red Wings have a long way to go, and they honestly probably would be better served stinking to an even higher level in 2018-19. This past draft was promising, but getting a true gem – Jack Hughes, perhaps? – would be crucial to go along with the nice players they’re starting to collect and nurture.

This might not be easy to watch next season, yet at least there’s hope.

Prospect Pool

  • Filip Zadina, RW, 18, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) – 2018 first-rounder

For much of the year heading into the 2018 NHL Draft, Zadina was the consensus third overall pick. In a rather surprising turn of events, the intriguing sniper instead slipped to No. 6 for Detroit. He’s already talking about haunting the teams who passed on him by filling their nets with pucks, but if the Red Wings have their way, he’ll be doing that to opponents who never got the shot to land him, too.

Zadina’s already captivating with slick highlights.

The 2018 draft haul drew rave reviews, while the 2017 edition inspired far more criticism. Rasmussen is a giant human, no doubt, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the ninth pick of 2017 make an impact on the Red Wings’ roster as early as 2018-19.

Can he prove he’s more than just a big body with decent skills? We’ll find out soon enough.

  • Filip Hronek, D, 20, Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL), 2016 second-rounder
  • Dennis Cholowski, D, 20, Portland Winterhawks (WHL), 2016 first-rounder

We might as well group these two defensemen together, as you could start a spirited debate among hardcore Red Wings fans regarding who has the brighter future. Hronek has already received quite a bit of seasoning at the pro level considering his work in the AHL, and showed some signs of being a useful offensive weapon. Cholowski is the first-rounder with the bigger body, so who knows which guy will pan out to a larger degree?

The Red Wings would prefer “both.”

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Wednesday Night Rivalry – Red Wings at Blues

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PROJECTED LINES

Detroit Red Wings

Anthony ManthaHenrik ZetterbergGustav Nyquist

Tyler BertuzziDylan LarkinAndreas Athanasiou

Darren HelmFrans NielsenJustin Abdelkader

Martin FrkLuke GlendeningDavid Booth

Danny DeKeyserNick Jensen

Jonathan EricssonTrevor Daley

Niklas KronwallXavier Ouellet

Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard

[Red Wings – Blues preview.]

St. Louis Blues

Alexander SteenIvan BarbashevVladimir Tarasenko

Jaden SchwartzBrayden SchennNikita Soshnikov

Dmitrij JaskinVladimir SobotkaTage Thompson

Scottie UpshallKyle BrodziakChris Thorburn

Jay BouwmeesterAlex Pietrangelo

Vince DunnColton Parayko

Carl GunnarssonJordan Schmaltz

Starting goalie: Carter Hutton