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October 1, 2013 | 5:55pm ET
2013-14 Season Preview: Montreal
By Patrick Kearns, TheFourthPeriod.com

Last year, the Montreal Canadiens shocked just about every pundit by capturing the Northeast Division over eventual Eastern Conference champs the Boston Bruins.

Throughout the early part of the season, solid goaltending and an extremely balanced offensive attack afforded the Canadiens the opportunity for an average finish. Ultimately they were trounced by the Ottawa Senators in the first round and the Cinderella run came to an end.

The Canadiens were a team that operated at unsustainable levels last year. Their goaltending was inconsistent and for stretches Carey Price looked like a high school caliber goaltender. Well a very good high school team that bullies all the other teams and all the guys already have beards and look like they're in their 30ís.

After the disappointing finish, the Canadiens are looking to turn the page with the youth they have on their squad. They had two very strong performances from rookie forwards Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk this past season and are hoping the two talented young skaters can take the next step in their development.

Combined with the veteran skills of guys like Tomas Plekanec and playoff superhero Danny Briere, the Montreal Canadiens are hoping they can strike that perfect balance of seasoned talent and developing young guns.

Of course, they have one of a best defenseman in the league in PK Subban to help balance out a strong defense corps, who are hoping to consistently keep Carey Price out of harms way. If it all goes right for the Canadiens, under Michel Therrien, they could be a team to look out for in the Atlantic Division this season.

FORWARDS

The Canadiens posses a strong mixture of veteran forwards, and young talent to balance out their line-up. Max Pacioretty, has quietly become one of the better forwards in the league, and they have several guys like along who can put the puck into the back of net consistently.

The team averaged just over three goals per game last season, and the offense was never really the problem for the club.

1. Max Pacioretty - When Pacioretty can stay healthy, he is the lifeblood of Montrealís offense. The strong forward has shown the past that he can score from anywhere on the ice and is one of the hardest working forwards on the team. If Montreal continues to be towards the top of the league offensively, expected Pacioretty to be leading the charge.

2. Brandon Prust - While he wonít be the clubís leader offensively, Prust has shown a skill set integral to success, which was proven almost everywhere he has gone the past few years. He is consistently part of winning clubs, due to his strong forechecking and penalty killing ability. Plus, according to former head coach John Tortorella, he has balls as big as the building.

3. Alex Galchenyuk - The former number three overall pick, Galchenyuk went through the typical ebbs and flows of a rookie season. The consistency wasnít always there, but he showed some flashes of elite talent. He is a major part of the Canadiens plan going forward.

DEFENSEMEN

The Canadiens struggled towards the latter half of the season defensively, leaving Price high and dry frequently. They have some real talent on the backend, but depth has been somewhat a concern for the club who went out and acquired Douglas Murray in the offseason. Murray had a less-than-stellar post-season, and the Canadiens are hoping the rugged Swede can find some of that meanness in his game again as well as relearn how to defend breakouts.

1. PK Subban - Last yearís Norris trophy winner, Subban is one of the best defenseman in the game. He possesses an elite point shot, a strong amount of offensive creatively and plays the game with an edge. He will need to be a stabilizer on the blue line for the club this year.

2. Andrei Markov - Markov has spent a lot of the past five years on the injury list for the Canadiens, but when the Russian defenseman is healthy, there is not denying the offensive talent he brings. Last year he suited up for every single game, registering 30 points and being a constant offensive threat. If he can continue to stay healthy, he will be a difference maker offensively.

GOALTENDING

There is no denying that Carey Price is the number one goaltender in Montreal, but the former fifth overall pick will needs to improve before rumbling of ďbustĒ get a little bit louder this year. Aside from an elite 2010-11 season, Price has posted middle-of-the-pack numbers. In a market that has had their fair share of historically great goaltender, eventually patience will begin to wear thin with the 26-year-old netminder.

He will need to be in the conversation among Vezina finalists at the end of the year to keep critics off of his back, and outside that one season, he hasnít been stellar. Other than his 2010-11 campaign where he posted a .923 save percentage, he hasnít broken the .920 mark while being a number one goaltender.

Fortunately for Price, in the immediate future, career backup Peter Budaj is breathing down his neck, which is not real threat at all. Still, the Canadiens drafted a goaltender in Zach Fucale relatively high this year and fans may quickly start counting the years until Furcale is ready to take the ice in Montreal.

SPEACIAL TEAMS

With elite defenseman Subban and offensive stud Markov manning the powerplay points, itís no wonder that Montreal possessed the fifth best powerplay in the NHL last year. Combined with strong talent up front, Montreal will likely ice another extremely strong powerplay this upcoming season. They will be a constant threat to score every time the opposing team sends a player to the penalty box. A strong power play will be integral to the clubís success this year and thereís no reason to think the team wonít be really strong with the man-advantage.

Conversely, when operating a man short, the Montreal Canadiens need significant improvement. Part of the reason they killed less than 80 percent of opposing teamís power plays last year was likely do to the inconsistency in net. Couple with a lack of defensive depth, the teamís penalty kill woes man continue this season. Prust has always been a really strong penalty killer, but the onus is on more than just one man. The team needs to operate efficiently as a four-man unit, which they could not do on a regular basis last season.

PREDICTION

Playing in an eight-team division, with one elite team, two pretty bad teams and a lot of strong hockey clubs, will prove to be the biggest challenge for Montreal this year. However, outside of Boston and maybe Ottawa, there is no team thatís incredibly dangerous. Toronto and Detroit will both be strong contenders for a playoff spot along with Montreal, while Tampa Bay, Florida and Buffalo will likely miss the cut.

If Montreal can find some defensive consistency and there offense does not drop off from last year, there is no reason they cannot finish third in the oddly named Atlantic Division.

However, the caveat with the offense is that many viewed their first half numbers as unsustainable and the Canadiens iced two very different teams last year. The team that got off to blazing hot first half will need to show up with more consistency this year if they want to expand that success over an 82-game season. Ultimately, they should get it.

Patrick Kearns is the New York Correspondent and a Columnist for The Fourth Period.


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