With the 2023-24 season on the doorstep, it’s time to take a look at some of the pressing issues and questions facing the Montreal Canadiens.
This will be the second full year of their rebuild, which means that the expectations will surely be higher. Some may be holding out hope that the team will qualify for the playoffs, whereas others are hoping for yet another top-5 pick at the NHL Entry Draft.
Can Samuel Montembeault Hold The Fort?
Much has been made about the lack of contract negotiations between Samuel Montembeault and the Montreal Canadiens.
But given his numbers throughout his career, it’s only logical for Kent Hughes and Co. to hesitate when it comes to offering him a long-term deal. Despite having a good year, his career numbers simply don’t merit an early contract extension.
This means that Montembeault will be playing for a contract this season, probably the richest contract he’ll ever sign.
A motivated goalie is usually a great goalie, but we also have to keep in mind that Montembeault finished 15th last year in terms of goals saved above expected, which equates to two wins, statistically speaking. He was very good, but he was far from great.
With that in mind, Montembeault is unlikely to significantly improve his statistics, but playing behind a defensive group that has much more experience under their belts should help.
Crazy (lucky?) save by Montembeault. It actually flips up onto the back of his pads. pic.twitter.com/4D7e7Dtl3u
— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) October 8, 2023
We also have to remember that prior to last year, it was Jake Allen who had produced the better numbers between the two goaltenders. Don’t be surprised if Allen manages to find his rhythm, leading to fewer starts for Montembeault.
And yes, it’s hold the fort. Not hold down the fort.
Unless your fort is made from helium. In that case, you need to hold it down so it doesn’t blow away.
Can The Team Stay Healthy?
Every Canadiens fan is well aware of the injury issues that have plagued the team in the last decade or so.
They’re entering the season with a revamped medical team, a consequence of setting records for the most man-games lost in the last two seasons.
Of course, when it comes to health, the players have the final call, which means they’ll have to be more honest with the medical teams if the team is to reduce the number of long-term injuries.
As Brendan Gallagher admitted, that’s not always the case.
A renewed sense of honesty, not to mention more preventative measures (like keeping Mike Matheson out of the lineup for precautionary reasons) will surely improve the overall health of the lineup.
Alternatively, the Canadiens can take a sample of Nick Suzuki’s blood, hire 100 scientists, and attempt to figure out how he managed to stay healthy while the rest of the lineup fell faster than fainting goats that were startled on a hot Sunday afternoon in the pasture.
Will The Power Play Improve?
To quote Daniel Alfredsson, “Probably not.”
Where Will The Canadiens Finish?
Most are expecting the Canadiens to improve their results merely due to a healthier lineup, and that tracks, however, other teams went through injuries last season, and few collapsed as quickly as the Habs did in the second half of the season.
A healthier lineup will help, but it’s a cheat code to instantly improve results.
Most outlets predict a bottom-five finish is likely. The Atlantic Division is stacked, and the Canadiens are clearly the weakest team in the division, at least on paper.
It’s also worth noting the Canadiens enter the season as the second-youngest team in the league, a fact that’s punctuated by the bevy of sophomore defencemen populating its blueline.
Updated average ages of projected season opening lineups:
BUF – 25.5
MTL – 25.7
CBJ – 25.8
ARZ – 26.2
ANA – 26.3
NJD – 26.4
OTT – 26.5
PHI – 26.8
SJS – 27.0
CHI – 27.1
VAN – 27.5
VGK – 27.6
DET – 27.7
FLA – 27.7
BOS – 27.8
WPG – 27.8
LAK – 28.0
STL – 28.0
CGY – 28.1
EDM – 28.1…
— CapFriendly Depth Charts (@CF_DepthCharts) October 10, 2023
The average age of the lineup opens up the door to individual growth, which, in turn, should lead to better results for the team. But we have to remember that the Montreal Canadiens are not the only team with a very young roster. That will mitigate some of the growth value throughout the lineup.
Seeing as the majority of the blueline is entering its second year in the league, we also have to account for the sophomore curse, which is a mythical way of saying results can vary widely in the NHL from year to year.
What will the Top Six Look Like?
The Canadiens have started the season with Josh Anderson slotted to play on the top line with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. This trio has been used in the past, and unfortunately, the results were far from sustainable. Anderson scored more often while away from the team’s two best players, and vice versa.
Rafael Harvey-Pinard had some success with the top-line duo, and he may manage to work his way back up the lineup from the fourth line again. There’s always a chance that Alex Newhook’s speed may lead to a top-line audition.
But as it stands, the Canadiens are yet to solve their top-line dilemma, and the options are starting to become few and far between.
That is, unless, St-Louis dares to break up the duo, placing them on separate lines to spread the talent throughout the lineup a little more equitably.
Fortunately for St-Louis, Kirby Dach has shown very encouraging chemistry alongside Juraj Slafkovsky on the second line. That may end up solving the top-six conundrum, at least for the time being.
Caufield and Suzuki can get by on pure talent.
Slafkovsky, however, needs a player on his line who excels in transition, and that’s exactly what Dach brings to the table. If he can continue to create time and space for his linemates, a bounce-back season from the 19-year-old Slovak could be in the cards.