The Montreal Canadiens are finally back.
The Habs begin a six-game homestand Thursday night when the Colorado Avalanche hit town to kick off another season of hockey at the Bell Centre.
Montreal is already in dire need of the points, particularly because none of the six teams on the slate represent the NHL’s elite.
The Canadiens went 2-3 on their opening five-game road trip and there’s a lot to glean from the failed adventure, most of it bad.
First of all, Montreal needs much better special teams play. Everybody knows the absence of Andrei Markov is going to make it tough for the Habs to have a potent power play, but what does Markov’s injury have to do with the penalty kill being ranked 26th league-wide after Saturday night’s loss to Edmonton Oilers?
Killing penalties is about positioning, hard work and goaltending, areas that could all use improvement on this team.
As for the 21st-ranked power play, there’s hope in the form of fresh free agent signee Marc-Andre Bergeron, who will join the team at some point on this homestand after getting into game condition in the American League.
As for goaltending, Carey Price is the only reason Montreal earned any points on its trip, but he still needs to be better. When you’re the starting goalie on a team as average as the Canadiens, your ability to steal games becomes the difference between making the playoffs and watching them from home.
Whatever lessons the Habs have squirreled away from the road, they’re bound to get a little education as the home team, too. Two of the squads they’ll see – Colorado and the New York Islanders – feature top-three selections from last year’s draft.
Avs center Matt Duchene, picked third overall, is an early candidate for rookie of the year, while No. 1 overall man John Tavares is showing why the Isles called his name before any other.
While these teams aren’t real good right now, there’s hope for the future. Montreal isn’t very good right now either; the only difference is the Canadiens lack that player who offers big-time optimism down the road.
That’s the curse of perpetually being a middle-of-the-pack team.
This column also appears in the Montreal Metro newspaper.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
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