This is my debut hockey blog on, well, any website. My opinions might be skewered, in your opinion. I’m aware of the fact that anything I might say could be something that might sound ridiculous to one, yet completely sensible to the other. Anyways, seeing how this is my first blog, I’ll start off with something easy, right? I’ll be doing an analysis of every player on the Habs, going by forwards lines, and then in order of defensive pairs, identified individually. Alright then, let’s get her going eh.
The Montreal Canadiens are a team that, I think, can surprise a lot of people this year. There are so many key elements to the squad that are looking forward to a bounce back year, as well as several key young players looking to build on their rookie campaigns. The Habs also made a key addition in the offseason of Erik Cole, which brings them an established power forward, something they haven’t had since the days of, uh, Robert Lang….? Also, Peter Budaj will hopefully be an upgrade over the reliable Alex Auld, and Martin will have to learn how to use Budaj more effectively to give Price more rest come playoff time.
The Montreal Canadiens 2011-2012 Season Outlook
The Habs forwards are a squad built on depth, with no real superstar. They finally have a solid set of top six forwards which have a nice blend of speed, skill and some size (Gone are the days of Moen in the top six, a true blessing). The bottom six is looking like one that has some offensive upside, especially with players like Eller, Desharnais, and Kostitsyn looking like they will most likely be put into a third line position, until the inevitable injuries happen. Mathieu Darche is also good for double digit scoring, and as for Moen, I guess you could say he does a little bit (emphasis on little) of everything. One of the main reasons we have him on the roster is for when the playoffs come around, although I’ve grown tiresome of watching his inconsistent effort throughout the regular season.
As the team stands, I expect the forwards lines to look something like this:
Cammalleri – Plekanec – Cole
Pacioretty – Gomez – Gionta
Desharnais – Eller* – Kostitsyn
Moen - White – Darche
*I’m aware that Eller most likely will not start the season, and in that case, Desharnais would likely take the center role, and one of Darche or Moen will play the left wing.
These lines seem like it would make sense when you discuss chemistry, as Cammalleri and Plekanec are no strangers to one another, and Erik Cole seems like he would be a great addition to that lines balance. Cammalleri and Plekanec are a match made in heaven, as the latter is a very effective playmaker, and the former is a great scorer. Cole’s role on this line will be to win battles in the corners for his two more skilled linemates, wreak havoc in front of the opposition’s net and pot in a respectable number of goals. He has a lot to prove as a result of his lucrative four year contract that was he was offered. Cammalleri will be looking forward to finally having a consistently productive regular season for the Habs. As we all know, he is extremely effective in the playoffs, but he needs to figure out how to be as effective in the regular season as well. Anything less than 30 goals for Cammalleri is unacceptable. Plekanec is the team’s most reliable forward, as he can really do anything you ask of him. Play the penalty-kill, contribute while at even strength, and help the squad on the power-play. He is also one of the hardest working forwards on the team, but unfortunately has a tendency to slow down come the second half of the season. Hopefully, Coach Jacques Martin figures out how to control his use of Plekanec per game and make sure he isn’t too tired out come playoffs.
Gomez and Gionta have been seemingly lifelong linemates, whether it be on the Devils or the Habs. When Pacioretty was added to that line, he brought many things that Travis Moen couldn’t; speed, skill, and finish (not to mention heart). Gomez absolutely MUST have a bounce back year, or risk being demoted to the AHL after this season, or traded for a bag of Doritos and a screwdriver. I fully trust that Scott will reach his career averages, and then some. I expect a very productive season out of him. He has been working out all off-season, and will come into the year in better shape than last year. With seven possible top six players (possibly even nine, if you include Eller and Desharnais), he should have no problem having offensive threats to feed the puck to. I expect him to skate alongside Pacioretty and Gionta for most, if not the entire season, barring injuries. Gionta is the on-ice heart of the club. He is the hardest working player on the team, and it’s visible every night. He is a safe bet to pot at least twenty-five goals, which is a very respectable amount. He has chemistry with Gomez, and when they’re both at the top of their game, this duo really is a force to be reckoned with, trust me. I’m going to go on record and say that Pacioretty will have an absolutely mammoth year. There are so many people he needs to prove wrong, and some are already saying that he won’t be the same player as he was before the famous and horrible injury. I for one wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see Pacioretty absolutely tear up the goal category this year. Thirty goals would not shock me in the least bit. This kid has offensive potential absolutely oozing out of him, and he really has yet to tap it. I fully believe last year was just a small glimpse of what he can really bring to the team. Along with Cole, he will be a dominant, physical power forward, not to mention the fact that he has speed to burn and a quick release.
The third line should become one of the better offensive third lines in the league, as Desharnais is a proven elite playmaker at every league he’s played in (besides the NHL, but that should come around soon). As a small player, he has had to show all of his detractors wrong by playing bigger than his size would suggest, particularly in the point department. He isn’t the fleetest of foot, so Desharnais relies on his excellent hockey sense and on-ice vision to put up points. Lars Eller is looking to build on an impressive end to the season and playoffs, as he displayed some flashes of offensive brilliance, as well as an adept ability to shut down the opposition’s top players. He also showed that he would go through pain to help the team, as he played through some of the playoffs with a separated shoulder. Andrei Kostitsyn has shown signs of an elite goal scorer in the making, with an impressively hard and accurate wrist shot as his key cog. He has displayed all signs that you might want from a man with a big body, as he’s not one to shy away from physical contact, which is visible from his team leading 140 hits in 81 games. Granted, considering this isn’t a very physical team, leading the team in said category isn’t a massive accomplishment. Had Ryan White played as many games as Kostitsyn – based on his hit per game average through 27 games, he would have amassed 210 hits, easily beating Kostitsyn’s mark. Andrei is looking for a huge bounce back year, both to earn a new contract and to prove that he can be a top six forward in the best hockey league in the world.
The fourth line will be there to present effort and grit while the top nine forwards are resting. This group has the ability to hit, score the odd goal, and even agitate the opposition. Darche has the ability to score over ten goals, and Moen has the frame to be a wrecking machine. White is the kind of player that will stand up for any teammate at any time, and really isn’t afraid to drop the gloves. I expect the Canadiens to make a late acquisition to bolster the fourth line center role, and acquire a right handed faceoff man, a la Jeff Halpern.
The defense corps boasts more question marks this year, and most of those question marks are health concerns. This is how I expect the defensive pairings to look to start the year off.
Markov – Gorges
Gill – Subban
Yemelin – Spacek/Weber
Markov is going to have to have a massive year to prove everyone wrong (that seems to be a recurring theme on this team, doesn’t it?) and continue to be a top ten defenseman in this league, as he was before his multiple knee injuries. I truly believe that Markov can put all of his knee problems behind him, as he has had an extended period of time to rehab and recover that problematic knee, instead of being rushed back into action when he wasn’t ready, as he was early last year. He will be well worth the contract that he signed in the offseason.
Josh Gorges must show that he can still be an effective skater, after having his torn ACL repaired last season. The word is that he had been playing with that torn ACL ever since junior hockey, which makes me think, wouldn’t having something that has been slowing him down throughout his entire hockey career now being fixed make him an even better skater? However, there are many examples of guys that have had knee surgeries and not being able to be at the same speed as they were prior to the injury (see Sturm, Marco). Maybe it’s just me, but I see this surgery as a very positive thing for Josh’s long term career.
Hal Gill got paid more than money people think he deserved this offseason, set to rake in 2.25 million dollars this season. He is getting paid for more than his on-ice performance though. He is a great influence on all of the young Canadiens defensemen set to rise up and eventually take his spot on the defense core. He taught Josh Gorges how to become the great shut down defender that he is now, and taught PK Subban a few things about maturity and steady play. He will now be counted on to teach Yemelin and Weber the ways, not to mention flop around on the penalty-kill, something that everyone gets a kick out of, and is also more efficient than many would think.
PK Subban will continue his rise to NHL stardom. He is already a fan favorite and true celebrity in Montreal, and with his extremely high confidence level, I can’t see any possible sophomore slump for him this year. He’s the kind of player that responds when the going gets tough, he gets going. He’ll certainly face criticism from both players and media alike (according to Mike Richards you can’t hit anyone hard or chirp anybody if you’re a rookie, why am I so sure that he didn’t obey that “rule” in his first year?...), but he has that unique personality that doesn’t seem to care about what others say or think of him, he just wants to have fun playing hockey. Along with Markov, he should help to produce a ton of offense from the blue line, especially on the even more deadly power-play.
Jaroslav Spacek will never be worth the near four million dollars he is annually making, but he will be more valuable to the club this year than he has been in years prior. He will be on the third defensive pairing for the majority of the year, and should be a reliable component back there. Having his role marginalized will help him not get too tired out, considering he is now 37 years old. Having him play well below twenty minutes per night would be great, because in previous years he has been forced to play top four minutes, something he cannot handle. He should be effective on both the secondary power-play and penalty-kill units.
I think that Alexei Yemelin will surprise a lot of people this year. He is a hard hitting, sound defenseman, and at the age of twenty-five, should be set to soon enter his prime. The Habs don’t really have too many physical defensemen, but Yemelin should change that this year, as he will be expected to rack up the some bone-shattering blows more often than not. Hopefully he does impress, and impress all year round, because if he doesn’t, it’s down to the AHL, or, at his discretion, back to Russia.
Yannick Weber is going to have this year to prove that he can lock down a spot on the Habs. There is ample opportunity for him to show that he can play good defensive hockey. Everyone knows that he is a reliable offensive player, but it’s behind his own blue line that people tend to have their concerns. He is considered soft, and too small to fend off high skilled attackers. This year is his chance to show that he can play a two-way brand of hockey, which really is a must in this day and age of the NHL. He should see time on the second power-play unit, and unfortunately might even see some time playing on the fourth forward line. At the ripe age of 22, now is his time to shine.
Just a quick review of the tenders now.
Carey Price will be manning the pipes for the Habs for at least the next decade, and that is a fantastic thing. This guy will go on to win multiple awards in his career, and might even break some records on the way. He doesn’t have many current goalies standing in his way to be the league’s best, as his rise to glory has been a real up and down ride. I now believe that the Carey we saw last year is the one that’s here to stay, and we won’t be seeing any ghosts of his past coming up anytime soon.
Peter Budaj had a couple of rocky years in Colorado. He was given the starting role, only to fail at it. He clearly isn’t ready, and probably never will be ready, to become a starting goalie in the National Hockey League, but he should be a capable backup. He should log around twenty games next year, and hopefully will do a decent job covering for Price. If anything, the Canadiens can always boast the fact that they are the only team in the NHL to have the two only Slovakian goalies on their team in the past two years, and that is obviously something very special to brag about.
Next blog I will identify the expected production of each of these players!
Sorry for any possible spelling errors!
Thanks for reading,