Adam Alexander The Hockey Writers
1 Question for Every Hab Leading Up to The Playoffs
Although the Montreal Canadiens are battling for first place in the East, there are still some questions about the team that remain unanswered. With the playoffs a little over a month away, here is one question (sometimes more) for each player.
Since being reunited with Pacioretty, Desharnais has stepped up his offensive game. He’s on pace for a 50+ point season. Can he maintain this chemistry and keep Patches rolling in the playoffs?
Pacioretty has been in “beast mode” all season. His offensive game continues to flourish, but his power play numbers are lower than last season. Can he help the team as a whole get the PP back on track?
Weise is Mr. Versatility. He has spent time on every line this year and managed to contribute in a variety of ways. Not many guys can both grind on the fourth line and contribute offensively on the first line. He was an X factor against Boston last year in the playoffs, providing both grit and offense. Can he reprise that role again this year?
Although he wasn’t ready to take the reins at center, he’s proved to be a legitimate top six forward with the Habs at only 21. Can he emerge as a reliable offensive threat in the playoffs and take some pressure off of Pacioretty? It sure would help his contract negotiations.
You know exactly what Gallagher provides every game: toughness, effort, and net presence. Can he be last year’s Rene Bourque and step up his offensive production in the playoffs?
Plekanec continues to be a solid defensive forward who is also on pace to hit the 20 goal mark for the 7th time. Can he still be relied on to shut down the opposition’s best players on a nightly basis?
Jacob De La Rose
Michel Therrien clearly trusts De La Rose’s game and has been pretty vocal about it, as stated here and here. At this stage, his biggest weakness is in the faceoff circle, as he is only winning 38% of his draws. This is problematic for a center who is often deployed in defensive situations. If he can’t improve, will Lars Eller (54%) slide over more frequently and take the important faceoffs?
Eller has more than one question to answer before the playoffs: Will he continue as a winger? Where will he play in the lineup? Can he find his offensive touch? What will his role be on the PK with the emergence of De La Rose and the new additions at the trade deadline?
Many Habs supporters (myself included) were shocked to see the promising Sekac traded for Smith-Pelly, but the final judgement of this trade will be determined in the playoffs. Smith-Pelly has a game that is built for the playoff grind. Can he recapture the success that he had in Anaheim last year? Hopefully, we’ll get a lot of this:
The ability to win defensive zone faceoffs is crucial in the playoffs. And Manny is one of the best (tied for league lead with Patrice Bergeron). However, is this enough to maintain his spot on the playoff roster over the likes of combo C/RWs Brian Flynn or Torrey Mitchell, who can provide more value in other aspects of the game?
Torrey Mitchell / Brian Flynn
Can Mitchell or Flynn grab the open fourth line RW (and or C) position? Therrien will be giving both players plenty of chances to prove themselves over the next several weeks.
Prust has stayed healthy this year, which hasn’t been the case in the previous two seasons. His physical play often sets the tone and he’ll never hesitate to stick up for a teammate. His importance will especially be highlighted in a seven game series against physical teams like Boston. Can Prust manage to stay healthy for the first time in three seasons?
As a result of injury and healthy scratches Bournival has only appeared in 29 games this season. Despite the acquisitions of depth forwards like Brian Flynn and Torrey Mitchell at the deadline, will Bournival make a playoff appearance this year? I’m guessing not.
I think it’s clear that this season hasn’t gone the way Parenteau expected or fans had hoped. Obviously, the biggest question is, will Parenteau be able to win a spot back for the playoffs? He’s a top nine forward, but with the RW being held down by Weise, Gallagher, and Smith-Pelly, it will be a challenge to get into the lineup. However, if the Canadiens struggle offensively, Therrien will likely turn to the skilled winger for a spark.
Andrei Markov & PK Subban
As expected, Markov and Subban have been the anchors on defense. They both play a lot of minutes and are responsible for shutting down the opposition’s top lines, while providing offence. Can the team’s top offensive D-men get the PP rolling in time for the playoffs?
Tom Gilbert & Jeff Petry
Gilbert and Petry share a lot of similarities. Both are veteran, right-handed, puck-moving defenseman. However, both are relatively inexperienced in the playoffs. Petry has yet to play in a playoff game while Gilbert has all of five games under his belt. Can both of these defenseman manage to play responsible, mistake free hockey in crunch time?
Nathan Beaulieu & Sergei Gonchar
Beaulieu and Gonchar are on the opposite ends of their respective careers, but face similar questions. Can the inexperienced Beaulieu and the veteran Gonchar keep up with the speed and physical grind of playoff hockey?
As one of Therrien’s favourites, if Emelin is healthy by the playoffs, he should reclaim his spot on the roster. However, despite his injuries, can Emelin continue to play a physical game? And, which defenseman will lose their spot when he returns?
Price’s performance this season has been Vezina and Hart worthy. It’s clear to see that if Price is in net, the Habs will have a chance to succeed. However, with the memory of the last two playoffs in mind, the question must be asked, can Price stay healthy?
If Price goes down, does Tokarski have the confidence to take the reins in Montreal?
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