While every Habs season preview begins with a look at Carey Price, I don’t believe goaltending will be key to the 2010-2011 regular season. Last year – and especially during the playoffs – the recurring problem for the Habs was secondary scoring. Tomas Plekanec had a great season last year with 70 points and Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri were lights out goal-scorers – when they were healthy.
Andrei Kostitsyn struggled consistently and disappointed last year with only 15 goals.
With little brother (but big trouble-maker) Sergei trying to save his NHL career in Nashville, hopefully Andrei can focus on regaining his 30-goal form. It’s a contract year for our former 1st round pick and a big year for both him and the Canadiens organization.
Benoit Pouliot was, at first, outstanding after being traded for Guillaume Latendresse. Habs fans were frustrated with the talented winger when the same lack of confidence and lackadaisical play returned from his days in Minnesota. I’m hoping Pouliot will have a breakout year but I seriously doubt it will happen. Hopefully Lars Eller will be more than ready to replace him on the top line alongside Gomez and Gionta.
Along with secondary scoring another key will be the toughness of our third and fourth lines. Teams will take the Habs much more seriously this year and the games will be tighter and more physical. Truculence is probably even stronger in Toronto this season and teams like the Thrashers and Rangers got bigger. Guys like newcomers Dustin Boyd and Jeff Halpern will have to fill the roles of character guys Dominic Moore and Glen Metropolit.
Travis Moen and Maxim Lapierre will both have to have better seasons than last year. Laps seems to have finally healed from a couple nagging injuries and seems ready to really showcase who he is as a player in the NHL.I’m expecting great things from him.
Another player who must prove himself this season is Ryan O’Byrne. It’s a contract year for the big defenseman and if he doesn’t show improvement he’ll be looking for work come next July. I strongly believe that O’Byrne’s development – and maybe more importantly, his confidence – have suffered under Jacques Martin. Hopefully with another year of experience under his belt, O’Byrne will finally settle down and be that big, strong presence on the blueline that Habs have been waiting for.
The Habs have a perfectly solid defensive core but because of age and style of play is at-risk of fading down the stretch. Hopefully everyone can stay healthy for most of the season (Andrei Markov – I’m looking at you).
The biggest story on the blueline will be, of course P.K. “Hollywood” “The Subbanator” Subban. The rookie will be an exciting player to watch this year but not always for good reasons. He’ll definitely help on the powerplay and on some quick up-ice rushes but his enthusiasm to join the attack or make the perfect play may cost the Habs a few goals. He’ll be a part of this team’s foundation for years to come and this season will be a preview of some of his highs and lows.
The Habs have a good chance at being more than competitive this year. They’ve got great threats up front in Cammy, Pleks, and Gionta and a solid blueline to back them up. I think Cammy has a real shot at 40 goals this season and Gio shouldn’t be far behind. The veterans (especially Markov) will have to stay healthy and several key supporting players will have to prove their worth.
While they’ve got a good team recipe the Habs will have to go through some tough opponents in Washington, Pittsburgh, Boston and most likely Tampa. We’ll probably have heart attack hockey in May again, but we might need to wait until 2012 for a legitimate Cup run.
Oh, and case you were wondering – Carey Price will be a very good goaltender for us.
You can call these predictions if you like but they’re solid. So solid, in fact, that you can bet on them*
Eastern Conference Predictions
4. Tampa Bay
6. New Jersey
10. New York Rangers
15. New York Islanders
Western Conference Predictions
1. San Jose
5. Los Angeles
Team Stats Goals-Assists-Points:
Tomas Plekanec 29-41-70 (comparable production to last
Scott Gomez 17-52-69 (+10 points)
Mike Cammalleri 40-20-60 (+25 goals)
Brian Gionta 36-25-61 (+15 points)
Andrei Markov 15-45-60 (+30 points)
Andrei Kostitsyn 29-20-49 (+ 15 goals)
Benoit Pouliot 15-10-25 (comparable)
Roman Hamrlik 5-20-25 (comparable)
Jaroslav Spacek 10-15-25 (+7 goals)
Travis Moen 5-10-15 (comparable)
Maxim Lapierre 15-15-30 (double production)
Hal Gill 3-5-8 (comparable)
Mathieu Darche 9-5-14 (comparable)
Josh Gorges 4-7-11 (comparable)
Tom Pyatt 5-5-10 (comparable)
Ryan O’Byrne 1-5-6 (comparable)
Lars Eller 15-20-35
Alexandre Picard 1-4-5
Jeff Halpern 3-8-11
Dustin Boyd 6-6-12
P.K. Subban 16-30-46
*no, you can’t.