Montreal Canadiens 2013-14 Season Preview

Montreal Canadiens defense P.K. Subban
Montreal Canadiens defense P.K. Subban
Apr 25 2013 Winnipeg Manitoba CAN Montreal Canadiens defense PK Subban 76 celebrates after the goal with Canadiens goalie Carey Price 31 during the third period Montreal wins 4 2 Bruce Fedyck USA TODAY Sports

Division champions in 2013, the Montreal Canadiens are largely unchanged, and yet they are flying under the radar in the new look Atlantic Division. Michel Therrien’s squad must improve to stay on top, but it looks as if the Habs have fallen behind in the Atlantic arms race.

The Canadiens needed a Bruins’ loss on the last day of the season to clinch the final Northeast crown, and the Ottawa Senators took care of it for them. The end result was lucky, considering Montreal went 7-7 in the final month of the season. At times it seemed as if the Bruins and Canadiens were each desperate to avoid first place as they slumped to the finish line.

Nonetheless, the accomplishment was something to be celebrated. It was the 22nd division title in the teams storied history, and their first since 2008. In Quebec, however, division championships hardly compare to Stanley Cups. The Habs have brought 24 Cups back to their francophone province, but 2013’s first round playoff exit stretched their championship drought to 20 years.

To bring home number 25, GM Marc Bergevin signed Quebec-native Danny Briere. Vinny Lecavalier would have been a much more attractive addition in terms of bought-out veterans, but Briere’s old Philadelphia Flyers broke the bank to reel in the former Lightning captain.

At 35-years-old, Briere has certainly lost a step. He posted 34 goals as recently as 2011, but he has just 22 in 104 regular season games since. The Canadiens ranked fourth in goals-per-game last season, so they don’t necessarily need to add much firepower. However, the loss of Michael Ryder will sting.

In all likelihood, Ryder’s production will be replaced by Montreal’s emerging youth.

Max Pacioretty continued to blossom in 2013, flirting with forty points in the shortened season. The Habs’ scoring leader has lived up to his star potential. Now in his prime, the former Michigan Wolverine should be a reliable weapon for years to come.

Even with Pacioretty hitting such great heights, attention is already focused on the next rising star in Montreal. That is Pacioretty’s American countryman Alex Galchenyuk.

Galchenyuk’s 2011-12 campaign with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting was wiped out by a torn ACL, and yet he still gracefully leapt into the NHL as a rookie in January. The slick skating center mustered an impressive 27 points. That number looks even better when you consider that Galchenyuk average just over 12 minutes of ice time per game. More game action in year two should lead to much bigger numbers. The 19-year-old also led the Canadiens with a plus-14 rating, meaning he was highly efficient at both ends of the ice.

While it’s fine to salivate over Galchenyuk, don’t forget about Brendan Gallagher. The 2010 fifth rounder posted slightly better numbers than his more highly touted teammate, and he tied Max Pacioretty for the team lead in goals scored. He may have a lower ceiling than Galchenyuk, but he will be a major factor this season.

The Candiens are loaded on offense, but we knew that already. The key to continued success will be their defensive play.

Of course, P.K. Subban just picked up the Norris Trophy, but that prestigious honor draws attention away from a major organizational problem. The Canadiens’ defense is focused on the wrong end of the ice.

Subban, Andrei Markov, and Raphael Diaz racked up a gaudy combined total of 82 points last season, and yet the three combined for a rather modest plus-7 rating. While they contributed to an elite offense, the Habs defenders ranked just 14th in goals-against.

They were even worse on the penalty kill. Conceding 20.2% percent of the time with a man in the box is simply unacceptable. They  won’t win the Atlantic division this year if they deploy the league’s 23rd ranked penalty kill again.

The loss of Alexei Emelin in the postseason exposed just how shallow the Canadiens are in their own zone. Without the bruising Emelin on the back-end, the Ottawa Senators crushed the Habs in five games. With Pavel Datsyuk, Steven Stamkos, Bobby Ryan and Jarome Iginla coming into their division, Montreal might find themselves in a lot of high scoring games.

Goaltender Carey Price is not exempt from blame. The Canadiens’ talisman has seen his numbers drop in each of the last two seasons, and he was downright bad in the playoffs. XN’s Michael Clifford recently examined Price’s performance, blaming the awful penalty killing in front of him for his 2013 struggles.

Price has been built up as the savior in Montreal for years now. He’ll have to prove that he is up to the task in 2013-14. The immensely talented 26-year-old could very well be a Vezina candidate this season, but the mercurial netminder could just as easily offer up another helping of  mediocre stats. He will have to be elite to get the Canadiens back to the playoffs, and that pressure might be too much for him.

Only three playoff spots are guaranteed in the Atlantic division, with two more wild card bids available in the Eastern Conference. The Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs all qualified for the postseason in 2013, and all four have improved their rosters over the summer.

Without bringing in any defensive reinforcements, the Canadiens don’t seem ready for the coming assault.

They will probably score more goals than any team in the Atlantic, but their lack of balance will be their undoing. Though the rise of Galchenyuk and Gallagher will raise hope for the future, this is a club bound for disappointment this season. They should be on the playoff bubble in April, but that bubble should eventually pop.


author avatar
Chris Blanchard
Chris Blanchard is a Boston, MA native and a student at Davidson College. He began writing about hockey as a Boston Bruins featured columnist for Bleacher Report in the fall of 2012. He has been covering the NHL for XN Sports since May of 2013. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+'://';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');