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Getting to know your enemy: Montreal Canadiens

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We continue our preview of the 29 other NHL teams today with a look at the Canadiens. Don't hold back your hate, they deserve it.

The guy who should have won the Norris instead of Subban
The guy who should have won the Norris instead of Subban
Hannah Foslien

Today marks day 2 of the NHL preview series here at Hockey Wilderness. Today's team is one that burns my heart a bit to discuss. Thanks to Andrew Berkshire from Habs Eyes on the Prize for taking time out of harassing me over Suter losing the Norris to actually answer these questions and not be too much of a jerk.

Make sure to include your thoughts on how the Wild can (and should) beat the Canadiens this season!

Without further ado, here is your Montreal Canadiens preview Wilderness.

Canadiens offensive threats
The Canadiens are a very deep offensive team, but their biggest threats come in the form of three players currently, though a fourth is bound to emerge in Alex Galchenyuk.

  • The biggest threat is sniping power forward Max Pacioretty, who doesn't get much love across the league as a star even though he's 4th in the NHL in goals per 60 minutes over the last two years at even strength and 10th in points per 60. Pacioretty is a big body that doesn't shy away from contact but where he really stands out is his quick release on his snap/wrist shot, which he gets off more often than anyone in the NHL.
  • After Pacioretty there's Tomas Plekanec, who not only shuts down the opposition's best forwards, but scores a ton while doing so. Pleks is surprisingly creative and is the Habs' best forward on the powerplay.
  • The big surprise last year came from pint-sized forward Brendan Gallagher, who was right behind Pacioretty in shot production (2nd in the NHL) as a rookie last season, and ended up leading the team with 17 goals including the playoffs. Gallagher not only scores, but while he scores he usually runs your goalie, which teams don't seem to like very much.

Candiens defensive threats

  • P.K. Subban is obviously the biggest difference maker on the back end. The reigning Norris Trophy winner was such a big impact that while he was on the ice he was responsible for a 23.2 Fenwick attempt positive swing every 60 minutes, a gargantuan change. While Subban was on the ice, his opponents recorded 8.8 Fenwick attempts every 60 minutes than their average. Subban comes at you in every way, he's physical, he's unbelievably skilled, he's savvy, and he's not afraid to cheat when the ref isn't looking. He get on opponent's nerves, draws penalties, then scores on the powerplay and chirps on the way to high five his bench. He's the best.
  • Lars Eller has gone from potentially good to flat out awesome as a two way center. Not only did he put up the points last year, he was able to carry rookies and cover their mistakes while dominating puck possession. He's been among the league's elite penalty killers for two seasons as well.
  • Josh Gorges isn't the most skilled defenseman out there, nor is he very big at 6'1" and 203 pounds, but he always finds a way. A relentless heart and soul player, Gorges blocks shots that you would think would kill a regular person, then comes back and doesn't miss a beat. He played without an ACL in one leg from mid-2004 until late 2010 because he wanted to win the Memorial Cup in junior, then decided to just keep playing. He leaves everything on the ice every night.

Unsung Heroes on the Canadiens
It's pretty tough to be unsung in Montreal with all the attention that the team gets, but I think one player has managed to do this, and that's the team's captain, Brian Gionta. I know what you're thinking, how can the team's captain possibly be unsung? Well in Montreal we have a small team on average, and this has lead to a certain (stupid) portion of the fanbase undervaluing the small players we have and wanting to get rid of them. Gionta though, continues to score at 34 years old at a steady pace, and is their most effective powerplay goal scorer. He does this while playing tough minutes at even strength with Plekanec.

Goaltending and the Canadiens
Unless you're somehow completely insulated from Canadian hockey media, you probably already know a lot about Carey Price. After a down year a lot of people are writing him off, even though he's one of two goaltenders in NHL history to have two .920+ seasons by the age of 23, and is currently a couple of days from turning 26. To put this in perspective, Price has already played 310 NHL games by the age of 25, whereas the current (undisputed in my opinion) best goaltender in the NHL, Henrik Lundqvist, had played a whopping 53 by the same age. Because he's been around a long time, fans forget that Price is just entering his prime, and is quite likely to dominate the NHL for the next 6-7 years.

Candiens Coaching
The coaching staff is headed up by Michel Therrien, formerly a firebrand famous for calling his team "soff" in a postgame presser in Pittsburgh, now a calmer but not stoic veteran who managed to reform his system and create one of the strongest even strength clubs in the league last year. He's helped by powerplay guru Gerard Gallant, and bumbling JJ Daigneault on the penalty kill. We're pretty hard on Daigneault at EOTP since he has one of the best PK forwards in the league in Eller that he hardly uses, and possibly the best penalty killing defenseman in the NHL in P.K. Subban who he decided to not use ever last season. He instead leaned on an aging Andrei Markov who wasn't good shorthanded in his prime, and even a rookie in Jarred Tinordi in the playoffs. He also uses the diamond formation on the PK, which hasn't been successful since about when Daigneault was playing in the 90's.

Candiens Prospects
The Canadiens are lucky enough to employ Trevor Timmins, who regularly finds gems all over the place. Because of this, Montreal has a very deep prospect pool. You can find out more about the Habs' prospect depth in our ongoing Top 25 Under 25 series. Finishing last in the East in 2011-12 didn't hurt either, but here are the three players you'll hear the most about this season:

  • Alex Galchenyuk was a rookie last year, but I'm going to include him since he's still just 19 years old. Coming off of losing almost an entire season to knee surgery, Galchenyuk exploded onto the NHL scene by leading all rookies in even strength points, finishing second in assists. Sick hands, blazing speed, a big body and excellent vision make Galchenyuk look like the superstar of the future in Montreal.
  • Nathan Beaulieu is the Habs' best prospect on defense by leaps and bounds, but he has some maturity issues. Last summer he was arrested with his dad for getting into a brawl at someone's house that his dad apparently started. Fun, right? Beaulieu is a high end offensive defenseman who was named team MVP of the Hamilton Bulldogs last season in his first pro year, which is especially impressive as he entered the AHL a year younger than most of his peers.
  • Jarred Tinordi is a big, defensive minded defenseman who the Habs seem to be grooming as a future captain already. When playing with the big club last year he was given more sheltered minutes than Beaulieu yet received the call in the playoffs, likely due to the previously mentioned maturity and he was a better fit for the PK with Alexei Emelin out. Tinordi is never going to be a big offensive producer, but he has a good stick and is able to box out forwards pretty easily due to his huge wingspan, not to mention that if he catches you with a check it's gonna hurt.

How would you feel about the depth of your team?

Pretty good. The Canadiens have 9 forwards who can score and a couple of them look like 30+ goal scorers. The veterans (aside from one) are not yet so far in their decline that they're in bad shape for the playoffs, and the young seem to keep improving year over year. On defense the picture is a bit murkier as after Subban, the talent drop off is large. Andrei Markov is excellent offensively, but he's a defensive risk and his multiple knee injuries have slowed him down. Alexei Emelin supplies ample physicality to go along with Subban, but he's out with a torn ACL until possibly December. The depth is not bereft of talent with Beaulieu and Tinordi ready to come up, but there are question marks surrounding Raphael Diaz and whether or not he can be a top 4 guy until Emelin is back. Beaulieu breaking out would solve this dilemma, but will it happen this year? That's a risk to just hope for.

Who are your fan favorites, and why are they favorites?Well, Subban obviously because he's Subban. The kid does everything and makes it look fun, and he's brought the hate back. You know how long it's been since absolutely everyone loathed a Montreal Canadien? When someone is so damn good that everyone hates him, you can't help but love him more.

Carey Price is a fan favourite as well, but his comes with a caveat as all goaltenders in Montreal spend their careers balancing on the edge of a knife. When Price plays well he's bigger even than Subban, a rock star in packed arena who has the entire crowd chanting his name, but when he falters it only takes a single bad goal for people to say he needs to be trade, but that's Montreal.

Who are must follow writers on twitter for your team?
I wish I had more but there just aren't that many.

  • Marc-Antoine Godin (@magodin) is the best of the bunch, a fantastic writer who is always learning more about the game. He writes mostly in French though.
  • Brian Wilde (@BWildeCTV) isn't a writer (though he does write) but a TV guy, and a great follow for Habs news. He also interacts with fans more than anyone else in the market and respects bloggers, which is huge.
  • Conor McKenna (@mckennaconor) also isn't a writer, but he's the best radio guy we've got and an excellent Habs follow.
  • Of course there's always the EOTP team as well, because we're awesome.

Who are must follow fans? (preferably non-crazy fans)
There is literally no such thing as a non-crazy Habs fan. In fact that reality even spawned a hashtag on twitter this year: #HIOHF, which means "Hell is other Habs fans", and also contains the initials two websites that have the most crazies (HIO = Hockey Inside Out and HF = Hockey's Future boards).
We do have some cool crazy fans though, people like @HabsLaughs, @HeyMyNameIsWill, @scottmatla, @imisssaku, @lawyergirl77, @breannad, oh and this guy you may have heard of before named Jay Baruchel (@BaruchelNDG).