Friday's ugly loss notwithstanding, the Canadiens have improved their team enough to not have to solely rely on all-world goalie Carey Price.
It was about a year ago when I wrote the Montreal Canadiens might want to think about adding a little depth to support their all-world goaltender, Carey Price.
My theory then was the Canadiens were a sure-bet to make the playoffs and were even a Stanley Cup contender so long as Price remained healthy.
Well, Habs fans disagreed big-time. They fired back with both barrels, basically telling me I was full of crap and that the Canadiens were much more than a one-man team. Did I not realize that Alex Galchenyuk was a world class pivot? That in the event Price was absent from the lineup, P.K. Subban would carry the mail? That newly appointed captain Max Pacioretty was a game-breaker and would save the day?
We all know what happened. Price suffered a season-ending injury after six games and the Habs went into a tailspin that resulted in them missing the playoffs.
So here we are once again with Montreal off to an amazing start and we must ask the question, what happens if Price goes down for an extended period of time? Are the Habs too dependent on their star goaltender?
The answer is no.
And the answer remains no in light of Montreal’s embarrassing 10-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night. It was the fourth time in club history the Habs have been blanked by a score of 10-0, their largest margin of defeat.
Backup goalie Al Montoya took the hit, allowing all 10 goals and no, he is not looking for a trade to Colorado today. This is the same guy who opened the season with a convincing 4-0 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and was 3-0 heading into the game against Columbus. He is more than a capable backup.
In fact, Montreal was 9-0-1. So despite a stinging loss, are we to suddenly believe the Canadiens, who still have the best record in the NHL, are suddenly vulnerable? I’m not buying it.
Montreal GM Marc Bergevin added some significant experience and depth by acquiring gritty left winger Andrew Shaw from the Chicago Blackhawks as well as right winger Alexander Radulov from the KHL. Radulov was a real roll of the dice. Though undeniably talented, the Russian has a checkered past and a reputation for not delivering the kind of commitment required to be successful in the NHL. With three goals and eight points in 10 games, it appears the 30-year-old finally gets it.
Also, without getting into the debate of who’s better, who’s best between newcomer Shea Weber or the departed Subban, there is no denying that Weber, the former captain of the Nashville Predators, has fit in wonderfully on Montreal’s blueline. Through the first 10 games Weber was tied for the team lead in points with 10, including four goals – three of which were game-winners. Weber’s plus-14 is No. 1 in the NHL (he was even against Columbus Friday).
It goes without saying the Canadiens are not only a safe bet to make the playoffs, but to also compete for the Cup when Price is healthy. Even though Team Canada had an abundance of superstar talent at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, Price was instrumental in leading the team to the championship. It was the same at the 2014 Olympic Games, in which Price delivered sterling performances.
What the Canadiens found out the hard way last season was they simply were not deep enough without Price. That does not seem to be the case now.
Galchenyuk is coming off a 30-goal season and is in his fifth year in the NHL. He will only get better.
Likewise, mighty mite Brendan Gallagher continues to assert himself as one of the NHL’s scrappiest and more productive players. Like Galchenyuk, Gallagher is in his fifth NHL season and he has rapidly become one of the NHL’s better two-way performers with the ability to inspire his team to greater heights.
It has been said that teams need great goaltending in the NHL to be successful. I do not believe that to be the case. If you have a great team, good goaltending will get the job done. In the case of the Montreal Canadiens, they may not be a great team yet so yes, they will lean heavily on Price.
But in his absence, there is no need to panic. They are a much stronger group this year than they were a year ago.
A 10-0 defeat notwithstanding.