Entry: The Habs are Officially Ready

After Saturday’s final preseason match against the Ottawa Senators, the Montreal Canadiens appear to be ready to start keeping score. In fact, when the puck drops on the 2014-2015 NHL season against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre, for better or for worse, the Habs seem to be in mid-season form.

Carey Price and P.K. Subban, the team’s best players, are cruising. The two tore up training camp like they were battling a sea of Kreiders and Lundqvists. That’s excellent news for the Bleu, Blanc, Rouge.

The truth is, Subban likely wants the City of Montreal to know he’s here to play, no matter the zeroes on his contract, and maybe earn the "C" in the process; and Price is determined to become the clutch player he couldn’t quite prove himself to be when he was forced out of the playoffs due to injury. Of course, the only thing either has to prove, now or ever, is that they can win, and fans have every reason to believe they will do just that.

The bad news is that the team is already relying too heavily on them to win or stay in games. That much was true during Saturday’s game when Price played Superman to keep a rallying Sens team at bay, and Subban single-handedly hemmed the Sens in their own zone with a beauteous feed on Markov’s goal to close out the first period. The two can’t do everything, well maybe they can, but they shouldn’t be the only reason the Habs excel this season.

I am aware that the pre-season is just that: a preamble to the show, and a chance for the kids, grinders and goons to carve a niche for themselves in the big leagues. Veteran players play to warm up for the regular season and (hope to) avoid injury in the process. Still, in the last two games, and especially against a brawny Sens lineup, the Habs dominated the first periods and then took their foot off the gas.

This early on, possession is noticeably still a problem, as is defensive zone coverage. With a young defensive core this could prove difficult over the course of an 82 game season. How many times last season were the Habs trapped in their own zone until an icing-induced-time-out saved their breathless forwards? Too many; and I see no sign of this changing after the competitive battles against the Sens. It was clear both teams wanted to win, but one wanted it more.

The system will matter this season. The Habs didn’t add to their fire power, but gambled on it. Last season the team ranked 21st in goals scored. Early predictions say that Pacioretty will hit 40 goals this season but who will be the Thomas Vanek the team desperately needed?

Newcomer Jiri Sekac is not in mid-season form. He doesn’t even know what an NHL season looks like. If there is one quote I can single out after game one, it’s a sweating Sekac noting the speed of a regular season game. He will need a chunk of time to adjust, although we (I) can still hope he lights the lamp despite himself.

I do have high hopes for the forecheck and the power play, despite a less than awe-inspiring effort during the last preseason outing. Finesse passing and commitment will go a long way to helping the team climb back to the top of the Eastern Conference this season, especially where talent is lacking. The game plan has to be there but there is time for that. There are other bright spots as well.

Markov, seems poised to groom the young defense with the "A" on his jersey; the first line trio of Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and P.A. Parenteau is a success; Brendan Gallagher taught me there’s no such thing as the preseason for an agitator; and Alex Galchenyuk looks ready for the breakout season everyone is hoping for (knock on wood).

There’s more good news. The Habs managed to stay healthy during the notoriously rough exhibition games; no small feat given the abundance of man games lost for other clubs. Both Parenteau (who left Saturday’s game) and Lars Eller (who missed Saturday’s game) are expected to be in the lineup on Wednesday night. This means, the team starts the season with their best players on the ice.

This was also one of the more competitive camps in recent memory, which means that there is a wealth of talent to draw from when injuries become a problem, and they will become a problem. It would take a miracle for any team to make it to the mid-way mark without a key injury. Such is the current nature of the NHL, where rosters expand to 35 names by the end of the season. Rookies like Jacob de la Rose or Christian Thomas won’t need to be in mid-season shape to help the club when called upon. Based on their pre-season and training camp, their fresh legs and tireless effort will be enough to keep the team competitive.

There’s plenty of time to worry about injuries or possession or the system. The clock hasn’t started yet. All the issues that were prevalent last season can be addressed out of the gate. This is merely speculation based on a few meaningless games.

I’m excited for the season, knowing full well there will be highs and lows. That’s the fun part. Where's the fun in being fans of teams like the Boston Bruins or Pittsburgh Penguins, who cruise through the regular season only to fold after their first or second hand? I’ll take the drama of an underdog L.A. Kings team any day; and the Habs will be the underdog many times over, no matter how many people peg them to be Canada’s hope for the Cup. It’s time for the show to start.

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