The Surprising Start To The Montreal Canadiens Season

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The Montreal Canadiens entered the 2018-19 season with no expectations and a total rebuild on the horizon. In the first ten games, the Habs have gone 6-2-2 which puts them third in the Atlantic, only two points behind the first place Toronto Maple Leafs.

This has been accomplished through a few conversations and transactions made between the Canadiens brass internally as led by general manager Marc Bergevin and team president Geoff Molson. Furthermore, with the combination of the youth and newly acquired additions now in place, it will surely help to make up for the losses of left-winger Max Pacioretty and centerman Alex Galchenyuk.

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Getting Rid of Pacioretty and Galchenyuk

The two blockbuster moves of the offseason for the Habs were getting rid of Max Pacioretty (Vegas) and Alex Galchenyuk (Arizona). In these two trades, Montreal picked up two very good players in Tomas Tatar as well as Max Domi.  The Galchenyuk move was an obvious one for the Habs to make and benefits both parties.

Galchenyuk never got his shot in Montreal and never fit in with the system. The Habs were hoping that Galchenyuk would turn into a number one center for them but Claude Julien kept switching him between the wing and center, hoping that one of the two would suit him best. Domi had 9 goals in 82 games last season and has 5 so far in Montreal in 10 games.

The issue for Domi in Arizona was that he was pressured to score a ton of goals and carry their team offensively while at the same time not having much of a support cast to help in backing him up. On the other hand, the Pacioretty trade gives Montreal depth, not only for this year, but for down the road as well. The key piece coming to Montreal in this deal however was young centerman Nick Suzuki.

Suzuki is not quite NHL ready at this time, but is currently tearing it up in the OHL with the Owen Sound Attack. In 13 games with the Sound so far this season, Suzuki has recorded 10 goals and 9 assists, making for a total of 19 points.

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Scoring All Across The Roster

Over the past few seasons, the Habs have been looking for a number one center as well as a true goal scorer. At this time, the hunt remains intact but in the meantime while that goes on, there has been help through No.3 overall draft pick, Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

In his first 10 games played at the National Hockey League level, Kotkaniemi, a native of Port, Finland, has looked solid all across the ice while making the right plays and doing so at the right times. For the time being, he is still looking to pick up his first goal in his young NHL career, however, that shouldn’t be much of an issue with all the goal scorers that the Habs currently listed and healthy on their active roster.

While Brendan Gallagher picked up a career-high 31 goals last year to lead Montreal, as much as fans would like to see that happen again, it’s not necessary given the bigger range in place to help and do that for him. The Habs have multiple weapons on offense right now with guys such as Max Domi, Tomas Tatar, Paul Byron and Jonathan Drouin. This takes the pressure off having one guy leading your team in goals and allows everyone to play their own game.

A guy like Drouin, who couldn’t get going last year, could go on to have a solid year given that Habs fans know he doesn’t need to put up 30 points to be successful in his hometown. The Habs are having no problem rolling out four solid lines while the talent they have is pushing young guys such as Charles Hudon and Nikita Scherbak as healthy scratches when this team is strong and healthy.

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Mike Reilly Solves The Habs Problems On The Blue-Line

Mike Reilly, who was acquired from the Minnesota Wild, has been the Habs best defensemen so far this season and is currently averaging a little over 22 minutes of ice-time per game. Having Reilly solves a lot of problems for the Habs defensively. Victor Mete, who is one of the Habs young and developing defensemen, can play down on the third pairing instead of being forced into first pairing minutes like he was for the first few games of the season. On the power play, Montreal can use Reilly and Jeff Petry on each of the units which gives the Canadiens a decent shot when taking it from the point.

When Shea Weber returns in December, the Habs will obviously have a tough choice to make in which defensemen gets pushed out of the lineup as ight now, the odd man odd would be either  Karl Alzner or Noah Juulsen. Alzner ends up being that odd man out for multiple reasons. Alzner, who signed a 5 year, $23.125 million deal on July 17, hasn’t been what the Habs expected since signing him out of free agency. He’s played sloppy in his own end and tis urning pucks over at a rather alarming rate. The dream would be to trade him, however, it’s doubtful anybody is going to take on a guy with the kind of contract in which he’s on that expires in three years.

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The Goaltending In Montreal

The Montreal Canadiens obviously have a super-star goalie in Carey Price who is capable of carrying them to a Stanley Cup Championship. Over the past few years, Price has dealt with nagging injuries which has kept him out of game-time. When Price gets hurt, Montreal is always searching for a guy to fill his spot long-term, guys like Charles Lindgren, Al Montoya as well as Antti Niemi.

All three of these goalies are solid but only one has picked up his game since coming to Montreal and that would be Niemi. Niemi has experience and can start a few games in the nightmare that Price gets hurt again and is out long-term. The 11-year vet also gives Charles Lindgren another year to develop down in Laval. With Price signed long-term, don’t be surprised if the Habs use Lindgren as a bargaining chip later down the road. Lindgren is a young goalie that has the potential to be a decent starter in the NHL once he’s fully developed.

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How Do The Habs Make The Playoffs?

This is the question I’m sure is way too early to think about but could also be easily explained. The biggest factor to this question is obvious and that is making sure that Carey Price remains healthy at all times. In the event of which Price goes down due to nagging of any kind, so does Montreal’s chances of clinching a spot in the playoffs.

Another key factor perhaps would be to keep Tomas Plekanec healthy. Plekanec, who is currently out due to a lower-back injury, will be a critical guy on faceoffs and will likely be rotating with Matthew Peca once he returns and in full health. The Habs have been brutal on faceoffs this year at a mere 45.2 percent which is currently ranked 29th in the NHL at the moment.

The Habs need to continue getting goals from everyone on the team. Yes, guys are gonna have slumps at times, but the rest of the team can easily pick up the slack if one of their scorers falls into a little bit of a funk. This all sounds like an easy road for the Habs to follow en route to postseason action, however, only time will really tell if this team can continue to stay hot as the season continues onwards with the end result being the ability to capture the Stanley Cup.

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