Back in July, when the THN crew sat down to begin officially prognosticating about the upcoming season – yes, it begins that early around here – the Montreal Canadiens were more or less considered the de facto Eastern Conference champions. My esteemed colleagues threw around a couple of other teams – the Penguins being the most debated – but the Habs were pretty much a given.
I just didn’t see it.
And I still don’t. Yes, I know, Montreal is sitting at 8-1-1, undefeated in regulation on the road, but the bubble will burst.
Remember last season’s Ottawa Senators? People thought they were going to set records after coming out of the gate 15-2-0. But the Sens were tooth-and-nail to make the playoffs and got blown out by Pittsburgh in the first round.
Granted, the ’07-08 Sens had some internal problems, but they also had three legitimate 100-point players; the Habs don’t have any.
Montreal is led in scoring by defenseman Andrei Markov with a goal and 12 assists. He’s tied for 18th in league scoring. Saku Koivu is tied for second on the team with 11 points in 10 games. The chances he’ll continue on a point-per-game pace are slim. And even if he does, the chances he’ll play 80 games are even slimmer. Alex Kovalev? He won’t duplicate his ’07-08 campaign – 35 goals and 84 points – this season. He hadn’t approached such lofty totals since the early part of the decade with Pittsburgh.
The supporting cast up front? Alex Tanguay is off to a nice start with six goals and 11 points, but he’s a passer, not a shooter. Tomas Plekanec? Three goals, seven points. The brothers Kostitsyn? Seven points combined. Guillaume Latendresse? One goal.
Outside of Markov, the defense corps is exactly that, defensive. Don’t look for much scoresheet filling to come from Montreal’s back end.
Ah, OK. But what about the Montreal net, you ask? Well, the Canadiens began the season with the least experienced goaltending duo in the league. Between the two of them, Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak had played 63 regular season NHL games prior to opening night. That’s almost never enough to carry a team, even in Montreal.
But he’s Carey Price, you say. The next Ken Dryden! The next Patrick Roy! Maybe, but not yet. He’s good and seems to be getting better, but he’s not there yet. He’s got a cool demeanor, but is simply too young to put this team on his back. And that’s exactly what he’ll have to do for the Canadiens to win the conference and the (destined centennial) Cup.
With inconsistent forwards led by Kovalev – the most mercurial player in the league – a non-descript blueline without power play specialist Mark Streit this year and a goaltending duo that will eventually bend too far, the Habs are destined to slow down come Christmas and bow out in the early rounds come April.
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