MONTREAL– With the roster shaping up and puck drop in the regular season right around the corner, it’s time to take a look at some of the pressing questions facing the Montreal Canadiens this upcoming season.
One of the most exciting stories that emerged from training camp was the ascension of several highly-touted defensive prospects. It resulted in an infusion of inexperienced talent on the blue line, a clear signal the youth movement is well underway in Montreal. Fans will have an opportunity to watch Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris, and Arber Xhekaj learn the ropes while also nurturing a budding sense of hope for the future.
But every decision comes with risk, and in hockey, icing a blue line with a bevy of uninitiated players is as risky as it gets.
To make matters worse, the only veteran defenceman that produced reasonable underlying numbers in the last few years is Mike Matheson, whose numbers came while he played for another team.
Can the blue line defy the odds? It’s quite unlikely.
Growing pains are inevitable and insurance policies are few and far between.
With Carey Price out of the picture, for the time being, the Canadiens will rely on Jake Allen and Samuel Montembeault to hold the fort, in what can only be described as an Alamo-like assignment given the team’s questionable blue line.
Last season the team allowed 319 goals against, which was the worst result in the league, as well as the worst result in franchise history.
The question remains, will the 2022-23 Canadiens enter the franchise record book for the wrong reason once again?
Over the last three years, Allen and Montembeault have put up the 36th and 57th best save percentages in the league, respectively, and while Allen displayed a positive goals saved above average (GSAA) in that time frame (+1.41), Montembeault did not (-3.1).
The numbers seem to suggest Allen could be the wildcard that saves the Canadiens from yet another dreadful year in terms of goals against, but seeing as he has not played over 60 games 2016-17, it would be unreasonable to task him with the same role given to Price over the last decade and unrealistic to expect him to put up great numbers while doing so.
Caufield’s Sophomore Season
Can Cole Caufield maintain his impressive scoring rate from the second half of the 2021-22 season?
The most encouraging sign for Caufield is that he led the Canadiens in preseason scoring, finding the back of the net four times in five games, with all four goals coming on the power play. He took 23 shots on target, almost twice his career average.
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) October 8, 2022
The regular season will present him with fewer shooting opportunities, but if he maintains a high-volume approach to shooting, combined with his ridiculous release and fantastic accuracy, Caufield is well-positioned to eclipse his 2021-22 season totals.
If he finds his rhythm at every strength and maintains his preseason power-play production, the sky is the limit.
The team is taking calculated risks with the potential for great long-term returns, and Montreal Canadiens fans have responded to the cerebral approach with an indication they’re ready to suffer a little pain for a lot of gains.
How long will it last?
It’s easy for fans to declare they’re willing to endure a few bad seasons, but it’s another thing entirely actually to suffer through those games.
Even Kent Hughes mentioned in his introductory press conference he’s aware that patience is finite and the honeymoon stage will surely end in the near future.
With a below-average goaltending tandem and an inexperienced blue line, losses will quickly pile up, which could end up eroding the good faith that was earned this summer.
Connor Bedard Watch
The rainbow at the end of the 2022-23 season is obviously phenom Connor Bedard, who projects to be a generational player with franchise-altering talent.
Could the Montreal Canadiens finish last in the standings once again this season and secure the best odds of drafting first overall?
Connor Bedard works the give-and-go finish for his 3rd point of the night.
He's up to 15 points (7+8) in 7.5 games on the season pic.twitter.com/nAdC4uXhF8
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) October 9, 2022
The short answer is yes.
The slightly longer answer is yes, but keep an eye on the Arizona Coyotes, who may very well challenge the Canadiens in the race for last.
The Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks could also ruin the party, but seeing as the Canadiens traded every single above-replacement player from last season’s blueline, the Western tank commanders will have their work cut out for them.