It’s here! Well, it’s almost here. The latest instalment of the Montreal Canadiens, the 110th season in franchise history, is about to get underway.
The Habs begin their 2018-19 campaign with a tough trip to the Scotiabank Arena to face the offensive juggernaut that is the Toronto Maple Leafs. While it promises to be an interesting early litmus test for the young Canadiens lineup, it shouldn’t be used as an indication of where the team is currently.
But enough of that. What do we have to be excited about this coming season? Here are a few points of interest for Habs fans:
1. Youthful exuberance
Obviously, a lot of the hype generated around the team during the preseason, which ended with a 4-3-0 record, came from the young players that we got to see on the ice.
The likes of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Nick Suzuki and Noah Juulsen have all attracted their fair share of fanfare, and it will be interesting to see how young guys such as Charles Hudon, Nikita Scherbak and Victor Mete continue to develop.
The current Habs roster is full of reasons to be excited about the future. Especially during the first nine games, in which Kotkaniemi is most likely going to feature, we will get a glimpse of what is to come.
2. Fresh faces
Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk are gone; we have a new bunch of Habs to cheer on this season, and there’s no reason not to be just as excited before.
At just 23 years old, Max Domi is a versatile forward who will be very useful this season and can expect top-line minutes, while Matthew Peca could assert himself as a very handy bottom-six centre for this team.
Tomas Tatar will hopefully prove that his time in Vegas was a fluke and that he can go back to being a top-six forward with consistent production, and Joel Armia will have a point to prove, adding another member to a frightening Finnish contingent.
3. A point to prove
Not only is there a group of new players with things to prove, but there’s an existing core of Canadiens who will want to make 2018-19 their ‘breakout year’, so to speak.
It is no doubt a huge campaign for the likes of Hudon and Scherbak, who could end up in direct competition for fourth-line minutes depending on how the club chooses to handle Andrew Shaw, Jacob de la Rose and even Nicolas Deslauriers as the season progresses.
The player who arguably has the biggest point to prove though is Artturi Lehkonen. He managed just 12 goals in 66 games for the Habs during the 2017-18 season, though many agreed he looked sharp and determined during preseason. Some even have the Finn as a potential top-scorer this season.
4. A Price on his head
One thing that seems to be a certainty for the Habs during the 2018-19 campaign is that Carey Price is going to have a huge say in just how well this team does.
It’s not just that Price is considered by the vast majority as the Canadiens’ best player, the consensus also seems to be that he could be the sole reason the team finishes either in the playoffs or as low as seventh in the Atlantic this season.
Last season, he had a 3.11 GAA and a save percentage of .900, while on his career he is 2.46 and .918. The latter figures are the Carey we know, and if he manages to regain some of his stellar form — which we all know he is capable of — the post-season is not entirely out of reach. Though there are plenty of other issues that could prevent that from being realistic. If he were to struggle again though, which is not impossible given the blue line in front of him, it could be a long old season.
5. Turning a corner
It would be fair to say that the Canadiens GM, Marc Bergevin, has come under fire for some of the decisions he has made during his tenure.
“Marc Bergevin and co. inherited a very good core and have since turned a perennial contender into an also-ran. The team was likely not as bad as its catastrophic season last year, but the Canadiens should’ve never got to that point considering where they were prior.”
The above quote from an Athletic article grading each GM in the NHL would appear accurate to most, though Bergevin’s recent moves deserve credit if anything. Getting a solid winger in Tatar and one for the future in Suzuki out of the Pacioretty trade was smart work, while the acquisitions of Armia and Peca so far look like shrewd bits of business.
After what seemed like a long time juggling pieces around and hoping for some kind of magic formula, the team finally has direction and hope. It’s a start.
6. Things can only get better
A lot of people, in fact it would be fair to say the vast majority, are saying that the Habs will not be as bad as everyone thinks they will be. It got me thinking; at what point does everybody thinking the team will surpass expectations become actual expectation?
The Canadiens should not touch the harrowing lows of a 71-point season again. They might not get much north of 80 points, and they might be out of the playoff running by mid-March, but there will almost certainly be improvement.
Most importantly, we can be sure of fun hockey and a reason to be excited again. That light at the end of the tunnel will keep getting brighter until the glory days of this historic franchise return.
Twists, turns, ups, downs, drama, action and intensity. A glorious 82 games of it (at least).
Buckle up everyone and enjoy the ride. Real hockey is back.