The 2020-21 season was one helluva ride for Montreal Canadiens fans, players, coaches, management, and rivals alike. It was the first time in 28 years that the team made it to the Stanley Cup Final, and it was damn exciting.
Shortly after the Tampa Bay Lightning crushed our hopes and dreams, the Canadiens’ injury secrets came spilling out in full force. Paul Byron had hip surgery, Carey Price knee surgery, and Shea Weber had, well, seems like pretty much everything wrong with him. Battling foot, ankle, and hip injuries all through the playoffs caught up with him as he too headed into surgery, but will not be joining his team at all this year.
While the captain rests, we still have a team full of spunk, young and old, as we head into the 2021-22 season like a kid on their first day back to school — a mix of excitement and dread.
Storylines to watch
It was initially expected that Price would be ready for training camp. Nope. Then it was he’ll be ready for the season opener on October 13. He was skating but now it seems he’ll miss it due to a non-COVID illness. So, sorry, nope again. The latest is he’ll be ready by October 16th for the home-opener. Dare we get our hopes up?
With Price’s injury history and the secret society the Habs have when it comes to injuries, it’s fair to say that we’re all a little skeptical of what’s really going on, how long he’ll actually be out, and how up for playing he’ll be this season.
Luckily, we have Jake Allen who did his part in helping (and sometimes dragging) his team to the post-season last year as Price sat out for a month leading up to the first playoff game after sustaining a concussion.
I’m not gonna lie, it is a tad concerning that they’ve also brought on 24-year-old goaltender Samuel Montembeault from the Florida Panthers. It could just be insurance due to Price not being ready to start the season. Or, it could be that Marc Bergevin knows the real status of Price’s injury (unlike us mere muggles) and we’re going to be on another rollercoaster of promises of when the star goaltender will actually be back in action.
As if making it to the Stanley Cup Final wasn’t exciting enough, how about those kids? The dynamic duo of Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, who combined tallied 28 playoff points, was a tonne of fun to watch on the ice. The expectations for these forwards are high, and I think they’re going to meet them. Will Suzuki establish himself as the Canadiens' new number-one centre? Sure looks that way.
Alexander Romanov, while having an up-and-down season last year and barely getting the opportunity to play in the playoffs (but remember that smile when he laced up for his first game?), makes his presence felt when on the ice. He’s the one the opposing team is desperately trying to hide from when he’s coming in to lay the boom.
We don't know just yet what’s in store for Ryan Poehling, but after struggling a little, he ended up having his best season with the Laval Rocket last year and should be at the top of the callup list at the very least if that’s where he lands again this year.
And there’s also 2020 first-round pick Kaiden Guhle, who is looking more and more likely to be in the opening-night lineup as the pre-season goes on, at least sticking around until.
Player to watch
Just let me get my coin out here ... heads, Suzuki; tails, Caufield ...
Tails it is.
Ahead of his first full NHL season, expectations are high for the 20-year-old Caufield, but there’s no doubt he’s up for the challenge. He is the kind of player who thrives under pressure and lives on overtime and man-advantage goals. If not a goal, he’ll definitely be picking up that apple with a more-than-capable playmaking element to his game.
Hot off receiving the Hobey Baker Award, Caufield was the first player in NHL history to score his first two NHL goals in overtime in back-to-back games, and ended the deep playoff run with four goals and eight assists.
It may have been a short stint, only signing his contract on March 27, 2021, but it didn’t take him long to find a spot on the top offensive line and make himself comfortable for the majority of the Stanley Cup battle. He’s sure to become a regular fixture on highlight reels in Canada, the United States, and around the globe with his elite offensive displays.
It’s a little concerning that he injured himself in some strange slip and fall during warmups just moments before a team scrimmage and has been out with an upper-body injury that’s apparently “nothing major,” but he was back at practice on October 4, so he’ll be fine come the season opener. Right?
#1: Jonathan Drouin is going to have the season we’ve been waiting for.
After putting up 23 points in 44 games last season, Drouin took a leave of absence due to anxiety. Leaving a sport he loves, as his team went full steam ahead into the playoffs no less, wasn’t an easy decision. He ended up hitting a wall last April while on the road. After taking part in the pre-game skate on April 23, he left the lineup for what was said to be a non-COVID related illness. It turned out he hadn’t slept for three nights before that game.
Drouin has been welcomed back with open arms and support. There’s been so much pressure and expectations put on him since he came over from Tampa Bay four years ago that he’s never been able to live up to his potential. Sure, we’ve caught glimpses of it and felt the tingle of excitement, but it seemed he was overthinking every move he made. Now, he’s back in rotation full of focus and fresh energy. “He’s feeling good,” says Dominique Ducharme. “You can see mentally, physically, he’s in good shape.” That should mean great things for himself, and by extension his game.
#2: The Canadiens are grabbing a seat in the post-season
Going into the playoffs last year as the underdogs — over and over and over again — the Habs made it to Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. Despite losing several key veterans, this is a group that’s just getting started.
Assuming they can fend off the injury bug (which isn’t going that well so far), with a team of not only young and hungry players, but talented ones with a strong hockey IQ, and veterans like Jeff Petry, Brendan Gallagher, Christian Dvorak, and Price, they have a pretty good shot of giving it another go this season.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that they’re not even hanging on by the skin of their teeth this season. They’re grabbing a spot and holding on tight. I mean, if last year taught us anything it’s that Josh Anderson, Suzuki, Caufield, and a rested Price are a team that will go down swinging. If Anderson isn’t the pure definition of coming in clutch then we need to contact Merriam Webster and get that changed tout suite.
No matter what this season has in store, you can be sure that it’s going to be full of high-fiving, hair-pulling, eye-rolling, screaming, cheering, and Olé, Olé, Olé’s. And we’re going to love every minute of it.