Many fans aren’t going to like this but they better “enjoy” watching the Montreal Canadiens at the very bottom of the standings, as it won’t last much longer. Why, do you ask? Healthy, this team is much better than what their record is showing. They have suffered more than their fair share of injuries and the NHL has made them play through a depleted line-up, something the league hasn’t done for every team this season. In their last game, they could only ice a line-up containing 11 forwards and five defensemen.
With the time off they have had on the injured reserve, combined with the forced time off due to the COVID outbreak, key players will start trickling back into the line-up and it will make a huge difference. Because we’re talking about several impact players here. And they should be 100% healthy and well rested this time around.
For some like Jeff Petry, it will be a new start to a very difficult season. For others like Ryan Poehling and Cole Caufield, it will be a battle to stay up with the big club and not be sent down to Laval. For guys like Carey Price, Joel Edmundson and Paul Byron, it will be a chance to prove their worth to the new management in place, and to help their teammates who have had to battle through a rough patch without them.
But most of all, the return of those players will provide the Canadiens with some much needed quality depth at every position, something they haven’t had all season. Who knows, we might even see a healthy line-up for the first time since the last playoffs? Imagine Petry being reunited with Edmundson, with who he’s had a career season with last year. Then bumping everyone else down one spot, creating better quality on the bottom pairings.
We’ve heard and read many people claiming that Carey Price returning won’t make much of a difference because Jake Allen has performed well. While they are correct about Allen, what those people forget is that with Price there, it puts everyone in their right chair. While he will likely need a few games to get into game shape, Price should provide as good, if not better goaltending as Allen has shown. We all agree on that, right?
What we tend to forget is Price’s impact on his defensive core. He excels at controlling his rebounds, preventing second and third scoring opportunities. This means that his defensemen can focus more on defending without worrying where the puck will end up on a rebound.
Also, Price is one of the NHL’s best goaltenders at playing the puck. When he goes behind his net, it allows for defensemen to peel off to the corners, giving him an outlet to pass. It helps prevent a heavy forecheck, making it easier on defensemen and on the team to break out of their zone.
Last but not least, the return of Price bumps Allen back where he was acquired to be, as the team’s backup goalie. In theory, you slightly improve in net with Price as the starter, but you greatly improve at the backup position, allowing to utilise him more often. This results in having a chance to win every night, with solid goaltending.
Of course, there are some changes coming when it comes to player-personnel. While we have a pretty good idea that Ben Chiarot is on his last miles with the Habs, the rest is up in the air. Jeff Gorton and his soon-to-be announced General Manager will have their work cut out as trade deadline approaches on March 21st. They will have to decide who stays and who goes.
Some veteran players will be changing address and we’ve recently dressed up a list, ranking their likeliness of being traded. Some will be from now until trade deadline. Most, particularly those with term left to their contracts, will have to wait to the off-season. But needless to say that while everything seems calm at the surface, the volcano is brewing under the surface and will soon start erupting. The amount of damage remains to be seen but in the meantime, this healthier line-up should be winning a bit more regularly.