LAVAL, QC. — The Canadiens picked up three of a possible four points to start the season. Did anyone expect them to do that against the Maple Leafs and the Penguins? If you are raising your hand, I don’t believe you. The Habs will play the next four games at home starting with the home opener on Thursday night with another tough opponent, the Los Angeles Kings.
Here are my top 5 takes of the week:
- New captain – On “Tout le monde en parle”, a popular French TV show that aired a week ago Sunday, Marc Bergevin said that there was a good chance that the Canadiens would have a captain this season. The following day, the organization announced Shea Weber as the franchise’s 30th captain. The logical candidates for the title were Weber and Brendan Gallagher. Even though you can build a good case to support Gallagher, I don’t think anyone can complain with management’s decision. As a matter of fact, this is one of the rare times that the majority of the fanbase was in agreement with a decision made by Bergevin and Claude Julien. One can question the timing of the announcement considering Weber will be out due to injury until November/December. I think that the team’s strategy entering this season was to eliminate potential distractions. When is the last time that there were no distractions to start the season? No discussion about Alex Galchenyuk and Jonathan Drouin at centre, Max Pacioretty trade rumours, and no more questioning the leadership on the team.
- Plekanec and Alzner scratched – Before Wednesday’s night season opener against the Maple Leafs, Claude Julien surprised us by announcing that veterans Tomas Plekanec and Karl Alzner would sit out the game. Julien said that he was starting the best 20 players. I applaud the coach’s decision to sit out both veterans, as it’s not an easy thing to do. It is not Julien’s job to worry about Plekanec playing his 1000th career game or to keep Alzner’s consecutive game streak going. The coach’s job is to win games. Both players said the right things when they were asked to comment on not playing. Plekanec is a victim of Jesperi Kotnamieni‘s play, while Alzner wasn’t able to crack a starting role on defence. In Alzner’s case, I feel like it was a decision that was based on last season, as Jordie Benn had a worse camp than Alzner. Coaches usually don’t break up a winning lineup, therefore I don’t expect Alzner and Plekanec to play against the Kings on Thursday night.
- Kotkaniemi debut – Jesperi Kotkaniemi continues to impress me. He’s not the same player that I saw at Place Bell against the Senators during the Rookie Showdown tournament. In that game, he wasn’t strong on the puck, and looked lost on the ice. Brady Tkachuk outshone him, which led to fans criticizing the Canadiens decision to draft Kotkaniemi. That seems so long ago, and I haven’t heard anyone complaining about it anymore. Kotkaniemi didn’t look out of place in the first two games of the season. He struggled in the face-off circle against the Maple Leafs (17%), but after veterans spent extra time after practice to help their rookie teammate on Friday, Kotkaniemi went 6-for-9 (67%) in face-offs against the Penguins. The Canadiens first pick in the 2018 draft currently has a passing grade in my book.
- Carey is back – Last week, I wrote about the importance of Carey Price having a good start to his season. I’m happy to report that Price has looked like his old self after two games. I feel that Price faced more dangerous shots against the Leafs than he did against the Penguins. The goals that he allowed versus Toronto were from dangerous scoring opportunities that no NHL goalie had a chance of stopping. With Price being at his best, he can certainly keep the team competing for a playoff spot.
- Byron scoring – In an interview with Sportsnet last week, Bergevin mentioned Paul Byron when he was asked to identify his best move. Byron represents exactly what Bergevin is looking for from his players. He’s quick, works hard, and he scores more than expected. Bergevin recently rewarded Byron with a new contract extension and was named an alternate captain along with Gallagher. I expect Byron to score at least 20 goals this season, and if he does reach that mark, he would attain it for the third consecutive season.
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