2009-10 Team Preview: Montreal Canadiens
Jay Kopinski/Icon SMI
10 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE CANADIENS
By Pierre LeBrun
Last year, we sat here pondering what a glorious season was possibly ahead for the Canadiens. It was their centennial season, they were the defending Eastern Conference champions and the buzz was through the roof in La Belle Province.
It was an entertaining season, all right, but for all the wrong reasons. On and off the ice, the Habs were a mess -- a divided dressing room, a coach fired, a player sent home and a lackluster eighth-place finish in the East followed by a meek first-round ouster against Boston.
But GM Bob Gainey didn't sit idly by. Half the roster was turned over in the most dramatic overhaul of the offseason. The question is, are the Habs any better?
Here are 10 things you need to know about Montreal this season:
1. Bonjour, Montreal
The new faces this season will include forwards Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Mike Cammalleri and Travis Moen and defensemen Hal Gill, Jaroslav Spacek and Paul Mara, not to mention new coach Jacques Martin.
"You've got Moen. He's a guy that will do anything for his teammates and shows up night in and night out. Cammalleri is a guy that just wants to continue to get better; he's had outstanding years. Paul Mara is a solid player. Then Brian and myself, you bet we have a lot to prove. You've got six to seven guys with something to prove, and let's face it, there's no better place than Montreal."
2. Finding chemistry
With so many new faces, sometimes clubs have a hard time coming together before it's too late. Can the Habs jell quickly?
"You can already tell there's a buzz in the locker room. Everybody gets along," Gomez said. "We're all on the same page. We think we're going to win, and that's the attitude that's already started."
3. Will the Price be right?
Numbers to forget: 4.11 goals-against average and .878 save percentage. Those were Carey Price's stats in his four playoff games this past spring against Boston. It followed a nosedive performance during the regular season, when a 2.83 GAA and .905 save percentage gave new life to the myth of the sophomore slump. As a rookie, Price sported a 2.56 GAA and .920 save percentage and looked very much the part of future franchise goalie.
Here's a number not to forget: 22. That's how young Price is. It's way too early in the game to suggest he's not the real deal. But his third NHL season will be paramount in proving his critics wrong.
4. Reuniting Gomez and Gionta
Coming out of the NHL lockout four seasons ago, Gomez and Gionta produced career seasons with the New Jersey Devils; Gomez posted 84 points (33 goals-51 assists) and Gionta 89 (48-41). That's the kind of magic Gainey hopes the two former Devils can reignite in Montreal.
"Me and Brian have been playing hockey together since we were 14," Gomez said. "We've always had a competitive nature, both guys wanting to be better than the other. That's the reason we've always had success together. We push each other in a sibling way. I know that guy can score with the best of them; we've seen it. It's my job to get him the puck."
Interestingly, Gomez and Gionta were not on the same line early in preseason, but lines change routinely in today's NHL. They'll find each other again.
5. Bounce-back Gomer?
Gomez slumped to 58 points last season in New York, his lowest output in six years and a big reason the Rangers shipped him off to Montreal. He doesn't want to make any excuses, but Gomez said he was never healthy last season.
"It was just one of those things that finally happened to me, where you want to go but you just can't," Gomez said. "I'm not looking [for excuses], and a lot of people didn't know, but it doesn't matter. I get paid a lot of money, and this is my profession. You never use that as an excuse. But for my game, I have to be healthy, and that's the main focus."
6. Follow the leader
Longtime Habs captain Saku Koivu is gone to Anaheim, bringing with him a truckload of leadership and character. Where will the Canadiens find new leadership? Someone needs to step up and lead a team with so many new faces. Perhaps it will be a guy like the hard-nosed Moen, or maybe gritty pest Maxim Lapierre. Gomez and Cammalleri are other options.
7. Power-play pressure
One area that contributed to Montreal's disappointing season in 2008-09 was a power play that no longer produced as it had the two previous seasons. The Habs were first in the NHL in 2006-07 (22.8 percent) and 2007-08 (24.1) but fell to 13th last season (19.2). After a while, losing Sheldon Souray and Mark Streit catches up to you. Now with Alexei Kovalev also gone, there's a lot of pressure on the new unit to produce. Cammalleri's 19 power-play goals last season were tied for second in the NHL with Alex Ovechkin. The Habs will need the newcomer to produce again on the man advantage.
8. Montreal market
With social-networking Web sites being all the rage, it can be like life in a fishbowl when you're an NHL player in hockey-mad Montreal. There were more than a few pictures of a few players from a few bars that made the rounds on the Web last season. It leads one to wonder why anyone would want to play in Montreal.
Not Gomez. He says bring it on.
"New York was great, but at the same time, this will be like playing for the Yankees," Gomez said. "You talk to people who have played in Montreal before, and they'll tell you it's the greatest place to play when you win. The one thing I keep hearing is, 'Just wait until you see this.' It's a whole new level in Montreal. People talk about what you ordered off the dinner menu. You can't be prepared for that until you experience it."
Gomez added, "You can be in places where nobody cares. You only get to do this for so long. The older you get, you realize how quick it goes."
9. Olympic exposure
The Habs could have as many as nine Olympians in February: Gomez (USA), Jaroslav Halak (Slovakia), Spacek (Czech Republic), Roman Hamrlik (Czech Republic), Yannick Weber (Switzerland), Andrei Markov (Russia), Tomas Plekanec (Czech Republic) and the Kostitsyn brothers, Andrei and Sergei (Belarus).
10. Tough start
The schedule makers did the Canadiens few favors, as the team begins the season with five straight road games. After the season opener at archrival Toronto, the Habs face divisional foe Buffalo before flying out to western Canada for an always-challenging three-game set in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. Good way for all the new faces in the Montreal lineup to get to know one another!
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
• Record: 41-30-11
• Division: Second in the Northeast
• Conference: Eighth in the East
• Playoffs: Ousted in first round by Boston
• The Habs will finish fourth in the Northeast Division and barely miss out on the eighth and final playoff spot, finishing ninth in the conference.
NORTHEAST DIVISION PREVIEW
Experience: Entering 15th NHL season, his first with Montreal
Stanley Cup titles: 0
• Jacques Martin was GM Bob Gainey's surprise choice to step behind Montreal's bench. The veteran coach ranks 10th all time in NHL coaching wins and games but also arrives after an unspectacular stay in Florida, where he was at times both coach and GM.
The biggest knock against Martin is that his teams have always played dull, defensive hockey. Now he'll show whether he's learned new tricks in the exciting, puck-possession game that Detroit and Pittsburgh have perfected in the new NHL.
STARTING FIVE ... AS WE SEE IT
F -- Mike Cammalleri
• Much is expected from the power-play sniper after signing a big free-agent contract.
F -- Scott Gomez
• The U.S. Olympic hopeful said he's pumped about playing in hockey-mad Montreal.
F -- Andrei Kostitsyn
• He survived the Bob Gainey offseason purge. Now he must deliver.
D -- Andrei Markov
• A man of few words who lets his game do the talking.
D -- Josh Gorges
• Last season was a breakthrough season for Gorges, who established himself as a top-four blueliner.
Best Bet: Mike Cammalleri, F: This may seem a bit low to rank a player we project to score 40 goals, but Cammalleri and the rest of the new Canadiens are not known for their defensive skills. We don't anticipate a strong plus/minus in Montreal, and the value of the top players there will suffer because of it. Also, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta have chemistry that goes way back, and Gionta plays a similar game to Cammalleri. They may have to split the number of nice passes Gomez deals out.
Risky Move: Carey Price, G: Even though Jaroslav Halak has been quite good when called upon, Carey Price is still the starting goaltender for Montreal. He should start 60 games, maybe closer to 70 if he stays healthy. The ankle injury is a concern, but he was 5-2-3 in March with a 2.75 goals-against average, after coming back from the injury. So he handled the workload OK, and has had all summer to recoup. At the end of the day it comes down to fan pressure in Montreal, and although Les Habitants faithful started getting to Price at the end of the season, he said all the right things afterward. His pedigree says he is going to be great, so we are projecting him to continue on that career path.• Player projections | 2009-10 Fantasy Draft Kit
INSIDE THE PROJECTIONS
Puck Prospectus uses its VUKOTA projection system to evaluate every NHL team in pivotal categories, while Will Carroll and E.J. Hradek weigh in on injuries and intangibles, respectively. Get an in-depth look at a new category every weekday leading up to the unveiling of The Mag's full rankings.
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