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Eastern Conference Playoff Preview: Montreal Canadiens

In the continuing “Eastern Conference Playoff Preview” series, I’ll take a look at the Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens, who currently hold the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference, have overcome injuries and unsteady play from goalies Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak to qualify for the playoffs. But can they hold on to the seventh seed and make noise in the playoffs?

Forwards:

The Canadiens made a few big splashes this offseason, trading for center Scott Gomez and signing right-winger Brian Gionta. So far, Gionta has been the best signing. The former Devil has 25 goals and 17 assists in 56 games this season. Gomez has 12 goals and 44 assists this season. Health has been an issue the entire season, with several Montreal forwards missing time due to injury. Now, with the team holding on to the seventh spot, they’ll be without top powerplay scorer Glen Metropolit. Top-liners Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn have only played a combined 98 games this season. That health issue weakens this offensive corps. Not only that, but they’ve struggled to score all year. The team is tied for 23rd in the league in goals, and they rank 25th in assists and points. A fragile offensive corps plus a low-scoring team could spell trouble in the playoffs.

Brian Gionta has been one of the positives this season for Montreal. The ex-Devil has already scored 25 goals this season. Photo Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images

Defense:

The Canadiens defense has underperformed as well. Andrei Markov has been the only bright spot on the blueline, tallying five goals and 25 assists. But the squad, as a whole, hasn’t stood out. They’re 16th in the league in goals against. After Markov, the team hasn’t received much offense from their defenders. The second line of Hal Gill and Josh Gorges have combined for a -5 rating. Jaroslav Spacek and Roman Hamrlik, the third pairing, have put up decent numbers. I wouldn’t consider the defense a plus or minus. They are, as the ranking shows, average.

Goalies:

This, above all positions, is the biggest sore spot in Montreal. Both Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak have played extensive minutes. It seems the Canadiens are torn between the two goalies. But the best option is clearly Halak. He leads the win total, 24 to 13. He’s allowed 15 less goals (94 to Price’s 109). His goals against average is better (2.43 to 2.77), and he also holds an edge in save percentage (.920 to .910). Price does have a better record against the playoff teams in the East, but he’s only two games above .500. Clearly, Halak should be the option the Canadiens turn to for their playoff run.

So, where do the Canadiens stand in the playoffs? They’re a fragile team. The forwards are injury-prone, and the defense is middle-of-the-road. Hell, the team doesn’t even know who will be their top goalie. As one of the lower seeds, I don’t have high expectations of the Canadiens. They may steal a series, but they seem to be another good candidate for a one-and-done run in this year’s postseason.

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  1. April 8, 2010 at 10:55 am

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