Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Montreal Canadiens 2011-12 Preview

Are the Canadiens strong enough to top the Bruins in the Northeast Division?

After a memorable playoff run two seasons ago, the Montreal Canadiens took the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins to overtime of Game 7 in their opening round series, only to lose and be filled with thoughts of what could have been.

This time around, the team will have Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges back from injury, and has added Erik Cole to provide some size up front. The Habs already possess depth up front with Cammalleri, Gionta, Gomez, Plekanec, Kostitsyn and Pacioretty.
Their defense will be buoyed by the aforementioned returnees, and their goaltending appears to be in good hands with Carey Price.

Are they good enough to beat the Bruins for top spot in the Northeasy Division? Probably not. However, they are a very good team. Strong defensively, and with some potent and timely scorers, the Habs will be a handful.

At the end of the regular season, the Habs should be tangled amongst the Lightning, Rangers, Sabres and Flyers for fourth place in the conference and home ice advantage in the playoffs.





Forwards
Montreal has a glut of under-sized forwards, but they get the job done. Can they break through this year?

Mike Cammalleri
Arguably the most popular Hab right now, he has built a reputation for himself as a clutch goal scorer and playoff performer. He’s been felled by injuries of late, but 30 goals and 60 points are a reasonable expectation for the diminutive sniper.

Thomas Plekanec
Plekanec has evolved into a very solid center. His playmaking ability and two-way play make him an invaluable commodity for the Habs. 60 points is a very reasonable expectation, and it’s probable he’ll exceed 65 points this year.

Brian Gionta
The under-sized Gionta plays with a big heart and it shows. As the captain of the Habs, he registered 29 goals last year, but only 17 assists. This year, they’ll need a bit more from him in terms of assists. 50 points is not farfetched, but 45 may be more realistic.

Erik Cole
Cole has bounced around a bit in recent years, but seemed most at home in Carolina. His years in Edmonton were certainly forgettable. Nonetheless, he brings a blend of size and speed to the Habs that they can use. Cole is a veteran of the game and should be a good bet for 45-50 points, with about 20 goals.

Max Pacioretty
Best known for receiving a Zdeno Chara hit, the young forward has speed and size and a deft scoring touch. Expect Pacioretty to continue to evolve this year, and perhaps eclipse the 50 point barrier. There are lots of talented forwards up front, but Pacioretty’s youth and size set him apart. Expect another step forward in this campaign.

Scott Gomez
The veteran American has taken some heat recently for his lacklustre play. Gomez’s numbers have been in steady decline, and his hefty contract does not endear him to fans. He needs to produce more. Too talented to dip below 40 points, expect a modest increase towards 45-50.

Andrei Kostitsyn
The big winger has failed to live up to the hype thus far. He teases with his skill but is inconsistent at the best of times. 45 points is probably tops for him this year.

David Desharnais

The diminutive forward broke onto the scene last year and racked up quite a few points on the bottom two lines. A full season should only increase his numbers. 35 points at least.

Defence
Andrei Markov

The Russian defender has been plagued with injuries in recent years. Despite being one of the best picks amongst defencemen when healthy, he is a bit of a gamble. If Markov stays healthy, 50 points is nearly a sure thing, but don’t count on him playing an entire season.

P.K. Subban
Subban led the team in PIM last year and enjoyed a marvellous campaign with 14 goals and 38 points. Expect 15 goals and 45-50 points as this superstar blooms.

Goaltending
Carey Price
When Jaro Halak left Montreal, some people panicked. Price had not shown he was ready to confidently assume the role. Remember that? Last year, Carey Price silenced the critics with a tremendous year, worthy of a Vezina nomination really. The future looks bright in Montreal with Price at the helm, and a Vezina trophy may not be far away.

Prediction - 38 Wins

Peter Budaj
The former Avalanche netminder struggled to earn or keep a starting role there, and eventually wound up in Montreal. Budaj does possess solid skill and can be a solid goalie when afforded spot duty. He’s capable of winning games when Price needs a rest.

Prediction - 8 wins

TOP SLEEPER
Max Pacioretty
Anyone who follows the Habs knows that he has potential. Coming into his own, he was enjoying a solid string of games before the Zdeno Chara hit knocked him out of the season.

Ready to return this year, expect Pacioretty to fly out of the gates and regain the solid form he displayed periodically last year.

45 points are within reach this year, with the potential to hit 60 or 70 in the years to come.

TOP ROOKIE
D– Nathan Beaulieu

Beaulieu appears to be a long shot to make the team, but has potential to burn.

The young defender possesses a tremendous blend of skating ability and offensive potential from the back end.

There are some good prospects in Montreal’s system, but none with the fantasy potential of Beaulieu.

Potential Breakout Player
PK Subban

Subban began his NHL career last year with much fanfare. Regarded as a bit of a showboat, Subban lived up to his own hype with a tremendous 14 goal, 38 point season where he led the team in penalty minutes and got under everyone’s skin imaginable.

Age and experience will likely temper his supposed ego, but it will only enhance his skill and ability.

Subban may evolve this year into a 50 point defender with a solid amount of penalty minutes.

His ice time will increase as he irons the mistakes out of his game as well. Draft him fairly high.



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