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NHL Season Preview: Montreal Canadiens

Oct 3, 2008 – 9:00 AM
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Bruce Ciskie

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Welcome to the NHL FanHouse 2008-09 season preview. While other sites are previewing "30 teams in 30 days," we decided to take advantage of the extra time off before the start of the season to bring you all 30 previews over the next three weeks. We're counting down in reverse order of finish from last season in each conference every weekday from now until October 3. Look for an Eastern Conference preview every morning and a Western Conference preview every afternoon. Click here to read them all.

Who's In: Alex Tanguay, F (Trade-CGY), Georges Laraque, F (FA-PIT); Marc Denis, G (FA-TB); Robert Lang, F (Trade-CHI)

Who's Out: Mikhail Grabovski, F (Trade-TOR); Michael Ryder, F (FA-BOS); Mark Streit, D (FA-NYI)

What's Changed:
The Canadiens are hoping that a couple minor tweaks and the experience of last year's run combine to make this year's team all the more dangerous. Montreal made no changes to their defensive top six, they signed Denis only to compete for the backup job behind Carey Price, and the top forwards are all back.

Honestly, Montreal shouldn't have to change much. Price melted down in the playoff series against Philadelphia (more on that in a bit), and the defense didn't play terribly well. However, the Canadiens fielded a pretty young team, had a great season, and they return practically everyone while making a couple of potentially significant additions.

Tanguay only scored 18 goals and 58 points for the Flames last year, but he's not the first offensive player to struggle under Mike Keenan's leadership. Perhaps this is the change of scenery he needs, because Montreal will skate and skate and show a lot of flow offensively.

Lang was a cap casualty in Chicago, and Montreal will gladly throw his offensive punch into their lineup. Laraque won't score much, but he'll help protect the pleothora of skill guys the Canadiens possess.

Who's On The Hook: Price is the obvious answer here. He was not good at all against Philadelphia, and he gave up a couple softies during Boston's Game Five win that suddenly made that series interesting. However, one would have to be an idiot to dismiss his .920 save percentage in the regular season, and one would have to be an idiot to think that the playoff failure was all Price's fault. He didn't get a lot of help, and the Canadiens struggled to score goals when they needed them most.

Basically, Philadelphia outplayed them, and it wasn't all about soft goals. Of course, that doesn't change the fact that Price will be under a microscope.

His defense can help him. The top six return intact, and while there isn't a superstar in the bunch, there is a nice mix of veterans like Roman Hamrlik and potential stars like Mike Komisarek. I really like Ryan O'Byrne, who has great size and is capable of taking regular shifts this season.

The offense simply has to find a way to do it again. They had nine players with double-digit goals, and 12 players with at least 20 points. Now you add Tanguay (58 at Calgary) and Lang (54 for Chicago) to the mix. It's not too much to ask.

Where They'll Finish: Yes, Buffalo is going to be improved. Yes, Boston gave the Canadiens all they could handle in that first-round series. However, this is still the best team in the division.

I don't expect Price to have any troubles recovering from his nightmarish experience against the Flyers. I think the defense will get better because of the talent and continuity, and the offense might actually be more dangerous than it was a year ago. Hard to imagine, yes. But totally possible. Alexei Kovalev might not score 84 points again, but he'll put up solid numbers at the least, and guys like Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn, and Christopher Higgins aren't all likely to fall off together.

Blogs To Watch: Dennis Kane's Excellent Montreal Canadiens Blog, Eyes on the Prize

Filed under: Sports

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