James Guillory-US PRESSWIRE
The Canadiens are in the midst of an on-the-fly rebuild after a complete management restructuring in the offseason, but they can still make the playoffs this year if all these guys perform. Your top 5 most important Canadiens, inside.
To be clear, this isn't a list of the 5 best Canadiens players, or we may have a bit of a different order. What it is, is a list of the five players who's play is most important to the success of the Montreal Canadiens. If even one of these guys has a bad season, it's likely the Habs miss out on the postseason.
#5: Max Pacioretty - Left Wing
The pillar of strength in a position that is an organizational weakness, Pacioretty is the best offensive threat the Canadiens have. An even strength and possession beast, where Pacioretty wasn't as strong last year was his powerplay execution. He was excellent on the powerplay, don't get me wrong, but his 4 goals there in 79 games leaves a lot of room for improvement for the heavy shooting Canadiens sniper. Back when we were talking about an 82 game season, I predicted this to be a career year for the 24 year old power forward, but how much can he score in 48 games? Hitting even 20 would be a lofty goal.
#4: Tomas Plekanec - Center
How do you know Plekanec is the most underrated player in the NHL? Because he regularly finishes second in the most underrated player in the NHL polling. He's so underrated that he's not underrated enough to be underrated. Last year was the first time since Plekanec was a rookie in 2005-06 that he didn't score 20 goals, but not for lack of trying. Plekanec's 220 shots was 7 off of his career high, set the season before. The problem for Plekanec last season was a lack of consistent, and good linemates, and a terribly unlucky shooting percentage. With his career average shooting percentage he would have netted 24 goals last season, enough to put him just one point behind David Desharnais for tops among Habs centers, in spite of his tough minutes role and complete lack of support. Pacioretty is the more potent offensive force nowadays, but Plekanec's versatility and position gives him the edge in importance. Plekanec is an excellent special teams player, and that's where he produced almost half of his points last season while being crunched at even strength, trying to carry a tough minutes line basically by himself. Despite what media may say in Montreal, Plekanec is still the #1 center in Montreal until proven otherwise, and if Montreal is to make the playoffs, he needs to be everything we know he can be.
#3: Carey Price - Goaltender
If you ask most people around Montreal, they'll probably tell you that Price is the most important player on the team. While he's the face of the franchise without a doubt, the chances of him not performing are extremely slim. The Canadiens also have a fairly capable backup in Peter Budaj in case Price falters or gets injured. But Price is still going to play at least 40 games this season, and if he has a great year, he could propel a weak team into the playoffs. However if the two players listed in front of him aren't around, it may not matter how brilliant Price is.
#2: Andrei Markov - Left Defense
It seems that every year since 2009 the refrain is "Montreal will make the playoffs, if Markov is healthy". That changed with the emergence of Subban in 2010-11, but with the loss of James Wisniewski and Roman Hamrlik in the offseason of 2011, Markov was once again essential to the Canadiens' hopes of a postseason. Markov's extended stay on the injured reserve last year, and his rust upon return were felt deeply in the standings, as the Canadiens cratered defensively without a solid second defense pairing. After playing 20 games in the last two years in the NHL, we just don't know what we're getting with Markov. When he came back last year, he was extremely rusty, but still the Canadiens' 3rd best possession defenseman. Can he be the Markov we knew from 2005-2010? We just don't know, but for the Habs to be a good team, he has to be.
#1: P.K. Subban - Right Defense
This one was a little obvious to anyone who reads this site regularly. Subban is quite simply the most dominant all around defenseman the Habs have had since Desjardins, perhaps even Chelios. Coming into the league Subban was hailed as a great offensive defenseman who was too risky, but in after half a year under Jacques Martin he transformed himself into one of the best defenders in the game. While his offensive work is still excellent, it's Subban's work on the defensive side of the puck that now draws him rave reviews. A powerhouse at just 6', his strength and puck control make him nearly impossible to deal with in puck battles for opposing forwards, who often double team him along the boards only to come up empty. Subban's ongoing contract talks make his status for the beginning of the season uncertain, and his absence would be devastating for a team that needs every player to be at their best to succeed. If you'd like to see a simple test on how important Subban is, look at the 3 games against the Jets the Habs played with him in the lineup last year (combined score of 15-4 for Montreal) compared to the one game where Randy Cunneyworth foolishly scratched him (a 4-0 loss).
Who are your top 5 Habs?