Rookie camp has wrapped up and the Montreal Canadiens training camp is set to begin tomorrow, as we inch closer to October 1st, and the opening of the 2013-14 NHL season.
We continue to count down the predicted standings of the Atlantic Division, and today we unveil who will finish third. Before we do so, you can recap the teams who will be finishing 8th to 4th below.
And the team that will finish third in the Atlantic Division in the beloved Montreal Canadiens.
Montreal bounced back from a dreadful 2011-12 season, with an excellent regular season in the lockout shortened 2013. The Canadiens won the Northeast last season, just holding off the Boston Bruins for the division title.
The Canadiens would ultimately fall to the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the playoffs. Injuries piled up quickly and Montreal was ousted in just five games. It was a disappointing postseason, but the season as a whole was a tremendous rebirth after finishing 28th overall in 2012.
The Canadiens offense returns nearly intact from a year ago. The only change being Michael Ryder leaving via free agency, and Daniel Briere coming in to replace Ryder’s scoring. This is good news for Habs fans, as the Canadiens 149 goals in 2013 was third most in the NHL.
The strength of the Canadiens offense was its depth. Max Pacioretty led the team in points with 39, but there were ten players on the roster with more than 26 points in the shortened season. They had three lines that could score, and look to be in a similar envious situation this season. With eight of their top nine forwards returning, and Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty and Lars Eller all a year older, the Canadiens offense should be in good shape.
In addition to the scoring forwards, the Canadiens defenders, P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov and Raphael Diaz will be able to bring offense from the blue line once again this season. Subban led all defenders in points last season with 38 in 42 games, and Markov showed he still has some offense left to offer by scoring 30 points in 48 games.
There are questions remaining on the Canadiens defense that could cause problems. Alexei Emelin was injured late last season, and not so coincidentally the Canadiens defensive game spiraled into chaos immediately. He brings a physical presence that was sorely lacking with him out of the lineup, and was especially missed during the playoffs against the Senators. Emelin made a great pairing with Russian country mate Markov, and balanced the Canadiens top four very well.
With Emelin out to begin the season, still suffering from the same knee injury, Marc Bergevin brought in big defender Doug Murray to add some nastiness to the defense group. It may be difficult to find the right pairings while Emelin is out, but the Canadiens bring back ten defenseman who played with the team last season, so chemistry should not be a problem.
There will be an interesting battle between young and old for playing time on defense this season. The Canadiens re-signed Francis Bouillon, Davis Drewiske and brought in Murray, but also have rookies Nathan Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi and Greg Pateryn pushing for a larger role. All three youngsters had an audition last season and will push the veterans to be on top of their game if they want to remain in the lineup.
In goal, the Canadiens will be very confident with not just Carey Price, but also backup Peter Budaj after his solid campaign a year ago. A lot of talk concerning the Canadiens has been centered on Price’s struggles down the stretch and in the postseason, and not much has been made of his excellent play throughout the first three quarters of the regular season.
Price had a rough patch over the final seven regular season games, but posted a solid 2.28 goals against average and .915 save percentage through his first 32 games. In the playoffs, Price was injured as the third period ended in game four of the opening round series against the Sens. The game was headed to overtime, and the Canadiens were down in the series 2-1. Though Price’s 3.26 GAA and .894 SV% in the postseason are not numbers that strike confidence in stats gurus, the reality is he was having an excellent fourth game, and if not for his groin injury, could have helped win game four and aided the Canadiens in turning their fortunes around in the series.
Budaj was used in spot duty through the regular season, and posted an impressive record of 8-1-1. The veteran struggled in the postseason when Price was out with injury, but proved he can be counted on to take some of the workload off of Price’s shoulders during the long 82 game schedule.
Assuming Gionta is ready for opening night, and when Emelin returns, the Canadiens enter the 2013-14 season with a depth chart looking like:
Bourque Plekanec Gionta
Pacioretty Desharnais Briere
Galchenyuk Eller Gallagher
Prust White Moen
The Canadiens do not have a number one offensive line that will overwhelm opponents every night, like the Tampa Bay Lightning or Pittsburgh Penguins have. However, the Canadiens have three lines that can all score at a decent pace, and make it difficult for opponents to decide who to match their top defenders against. Last season, when the Canadiens won a game, it seemed like one line had stepped up in a big way offensively, and a different line would take a turn each night.
This should be the case once again in 2013-14. The depth on offense, solid goaltending, and plenty of young defenders pounding down the door for playing time will combine to bring the Canadiens back to the postseason, and carry them to third place in the Atlantic Division.