Atlantic Division 2014-15 Preview: Montreal Canadiens
COACH: Michel Therrien
2013-14 RECORD: 46-28-8, 100 points (third in Atlantic; lost to Rangers, 4-2, in conference finals)
VITAL SIGNS: 2.62 goals-for per game (21st); 2.49 goals-against per game (6th); 17.2 power play pct. (19th); 85.12 penalty kill pct. (4th); shootout record: 6-3
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Max Pacioretty — Tomas Plekanec — Brendan Gallagher
Alex Galchenyuk — David Desharnais — P.A. Parenteau
Rene Bourque — Lars Eller — Brandon Prust
Michael Bournival — Manny Malhotra — Dale Weise
Travis Moen — Jiří Sekáč
OUTLOOK: The biggest move that Montreal made this offseason was locking up P.K. Subban with an eight-year deal. Keeping the 2013 Norris Trophy-winner in a Habs uniform was critical to ensure the franchise’s long-term success. The 25-year-old Subban will anchor the Canadiens' defense well into the next decade. In the short-term, while the loss of Josh Gorges hurts, the consistency of having their top five blue liners from last season should enable this defense to again rank near the top of the league. The situation is a little more fluid up front after the Canadiens parted with three of their top-six scoring forwards: Thomas Vanek, Brian Gionta and Danny Briere. Trading Briere for P.A. Parenteau seems like a lateral move, especially with Briere turning 37 in October and Parenteau, 31, coming off a down year with Colorado and needing to prove that he can still be productive, but moving the other vets created top-six opportunities for two exciting youngsters. Alex Galchenyuk was given a good look at center during the preseason, but he seems destined to start the season on the wing where his speed and creativity will prove to be a handful for opposing defenders. Jiří Sekáč, a 22-year-old Czech winger signed as a free-agent out of the KHL, has dazzled despite limited opportunities during the preseason. If center Lars Eller fails to finally deliver on his long-simmering potential, these two youngsters will be key to Montreal's offense staving off regression. When all else fails, there's always gold medal hero Carey Price to hold the fort.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Brendan Gallagher
Gallagher was the Calder Trophy runner-up two seasons ago but his play didn't live up to everyone's expectations last season. Fair or not, he still chipped in 19 goals and 41 points and provided the spark that ignited Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais when the first liners were struggling. Gallagher may never be a sniper like Patches but he has good offensive instincts. If he can score 25 goals while leading the league in opponents agitated, he'll be a very valuable player.
PREDICTION: 103 points, second in Atlantic