When Nathan Horton scored in overtime during same seven of Boston’s series with Montreal – it abruptly ended the Canadiens’ season.
Jacques Martin’s team were sent home with a lot to think about over the summer, faced with the truth that they can’t compete with the top teams in the NHL. The Canadiens do have some top players, but have very little depth and a shaky defense.
Montreal have been blessed with some positives this season. Carey Price for one has kept their season going with some superb performances both in the regular season and in the playoffs. Even during game seven against the Bruins, Price made big save after big save – allowing his team to make a comeback thanks to PK Subban’s late equalizer.
Montreal were worried about goaltending following the departure of Jaroslav Halak to the St Louis Blues. However, Price’s good form gave his team stability – allowing the Habs to make a playoff run.
Habs’ prospects allowed to shine
The Canadiens are due some credit for taking the Boston Bruins to seven games. The Habs won the first two games in Boston without much fuss, largely due to Price and Mike Cammalleri. However, when Boston took the series seriously as they did from game three onwards, Montreal were in trouble.
The Habs’ youngsters and those more familiar to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL have been able to shine this season. During the post-season David Desharnais has carried the troops, ad despite his small frame, Desharnais has had no fear against a tough Boston side.
Max Pacioretty was one of Montreal’s best performers before his unfortunate injury at the hands of Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. The youngster scored some important goals, and is certainly one for the future. Similarly, Mathieu Darche’s experience was vital in the playoffs, while the enthusiasm of Ryan White and Yannick Weber will fill Martin with some confidence.
Montreal’s prospects were not the problem this season. However, they were called into action perhaps prematurely due to several serious injuries. Offensively, Mike Cammalleri was Montreal’s most important casualty as he missed an important month for the Habs – only registering 19 goals and 28 assists this season.
The Canadiens were hit hand at the blue-line. For the second consecutive season, Andrei Markov has fought a losing battle with injury. With his contract up in the summer, the Canadiens’ administration has a lot of thinking to do regarding Markov. The Russian is now 32-years-old and earned $5.75m this season. Montreal missed his experience and scoring ability throughout the season, but Markov’s injury concerns make renewing his contract a big gamble. Another high earner, Scott Gomez played 80 games during the regular season. The former Devil managed a career-low seven goals and 31 assists.
Andrei Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot have also under-performer for the Habs. These forwards are on the roster to score, and Martin will need to look closely at getting the best out of these players or finding suitable replacements. A couple of years ago, the mid-roster scorers under-performing included Michael Ryder, Sergei Kostitsyn, Maxim Lapierre and Chris Higgins. Now, these players are performing out of their skins and still going strong in the hunt for the Stanley Cup.
Quick learning curve for Subban
The Canadiens can count on their youngsters to help out the veterans, however, PK Subban has been forced to play like a vet throughout the season. Subban’s learnt a lot during last year’s playoffs, and he was thrown straight into the deep end this season – with the injuries to Markov and Josh Gorges.
Subban has a reputation for diving or embellishment. Hopefully, he will learn it will get him nowhere. However, for this to happen, his experienced teammates will need to set a good example. Subban is growing up quickly and has been able to step up when his teammates have struggled. If his quick learning continues, Subban will become Montreal’s biggest asset.
With the season over for the Canadiens, maybe it’s time for the Habs to rebuild over a longer period of time, even if it means missing the playoffs next season. A lot of important questions will asked over the next few months as this season’s postmortem begins. More important than what went wrong is what can be improved next season.