LAVAL, QC. — The Canadiens completed the pre-season with a record of four wins and three losses. Excluding Saturday night’s game against the Senators, I think the Habs fans should be happy with the overall performance of their team during camp. The highlight of the pre-season was the way they played against the Maple Leafs last Wednesday at the Bell Centre. Everyone (including me) thought that the Canadiens wouldn’t be able to compete against Toronto, that had all of their top players on the ice, but Claude Julien‘s team gave an excellent performance.
The Canadiens have finalized their roster, and will head to Toronto and Pittsburgh this week to begin the 2018-19 regular season.
Here are my top 5 takes of the week:
- Hockey or business decision? – On Saturday morning, Claude Julien announced that Jesperi Kotkaniemi would start the season in the NHL. The reaction from fans was mixed between people that are happy with that decision and others that wanted him to continue his development in Finland or Laval. Everyone agrees that the Canadiens first pick in the 2018 draft had an excellent camp. Kotkaniemi’s biggest test was against the Maple Leafs and he passed with flying colours. On Saturday’s episode of the Canadiens Connection podcast, Rick Stephens, editor-in-chief, suggested that the decision to start the 18-year old in the NHL may have been influenced by marketing reasons to have a positive narrative to begin the season. At first, it sounds outrageous, but if you think about, is it really far-fetched? We all know that there was a lot of negative vibes around the organization that started last season. Two weeks ago, I wrote about how there were still tickets available for the home opener against the Kings. There have been ads on RDS and TSN690 promoting tickets available for home games. When was the last time you’ve seen that? On Thursday, TVA published a story that there are a pair of tickets available for 37 of the 41 home games, and they were able to purchase a block of eight tickets for 30 of the 41 games. Kotkaniemi had a very good camp, and got the fanbase excited about the team. An excited fanbase will increase ticket sales. I think that the business aspect certainly was a factor in having Kotkaniemi starting in Montreal.
- Price strong start – Wednesday night’s season opener in Toronto will be an important game for Carey Price. Price is coming off a bad season, and needs to start the season strong or else the media generated negativity around the goaltender may just snowball into something bigger. On TSN’s annual Top 50 player list, Price was off their board after being ranked fifth on their list a year ago. It is the biggest dip since they’ve started compiling the list. In their season preview edition, The Hockey News ranked Price as the fifth best goalie behind Sergei Bobrovsky, Connor Hellebuyck, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Marc-Andre Fleury. During Wednesday night’s game, Price broke his stick after allowing two quick goals in the third period. He knows that he has something to prove this season.
- Aggressive power-play – It is becoming more and more obvious that Claude Julien and his coaching staff are implementing a new system that increases the focus on offence. The change that I’m looking forward to seeing, is the power-play with four forwards. Is this a change of philosophy or is this a temporary strategy to generate more offence during Shea Weber‘s absence? I think this new power play tactic helped Nikita Scherbak secure a roster spot. It’s up to him to benefit from it.
- Prospect pool – With Michael McCarron being assigned to the Laval Rocket, there was some discussion again, about the lack of prospects that were drafted by Trevor Timmins and his team. The Athletic recently published a list of top-100 prospects and the Canadiens had five players on that list: Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Nick Suzuki, Jesse Ylonen, Ryan Poehling, and Noah Juulsen. There’s no team that has more than five prospects on that list. I think it’s time to stop pointing fingers at Timmins, when the real issue has always been the development of players.
- Predictions – With regular season about to begin, it’s time to make predictions on the upcoming season. I think that the Canadiens will have a better season than last year where they finished sixth in the Atlantic Division with 71 points. I think that Carey Price will be better than he was last season, but the biggest question mark for me once again will be scoring. Max Pacioretty was the team’s best scorer, and Alex Galchenyuk led the team in goals and points on the power-play. I don’t think that any of the acquisitions made during the off-season will replace their contributions. If the pre-season was any indication, we should see more effort shown by the Canadiens throughout the season.
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