If there has ever been a team that wishes history could repeat itself, look no further than this year's Montreal Canadiens.
Canadiens fans watched in astonishment as Carey Price had, statistically speaking, one of the best seasons a goalie has ever had in Montreal, which is really saying something considering the all-time greats the team has employed. The Canadiens desperately need him to do it again.
Even with Price's outstanding 44 wins, .933 save percentage, and Vezina and Hart trophies, the Canadiens' lack of scoring came back to haunt them. A paltry 13 goals scored in six games during a second-round exit at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning (after eking by on 12 goals over six games in their first-round win) was the difference maker. Their goal scoring and power-play production were bottom third in the league and, one would think, issues that would have dominated general manager Marc Bergevin's summer shopping list.
Instead, he took a flyer on oft-maligned sniper Alexander Semin. At $1.1 million for one year, the signing could be the bargain of the offseason, but he could very well putter under strict bench boss Michel Therrien. Semin has never been the type to rise to an occasion, especially one so laden with pressure as it can be in Montreal. If he doesn't put up more than just a few goals, Montreal is right back where it started: a defence-first team with a very strong penalty kill that can't score.
Sure, the Atlantic Division is arguably the weakest in the league and it's a safe bet to call the Canadiens a playoff team. The lineup that Montreal seems intent on icing, largely free of major changes from last season, could still test the patience of Canadiens fans as the Atlantic contains two teams that could surprise many: the Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres.
It will be the five Sabres-Canadiens games that provide some of the most entertaining matchups this season. How will the Canadiens' defence handle the young, explosive Sabres offence? Speedy and tenacious teams like the Sabres that play with an edge could throw a wrench in the structured Canadiens.
The Habs defence won't have troubles with most teams, though. It's a deep top four, centered around two-time All Star P.K. Subban. Offensively, Subban continues to trend upward and will be expected to shoulder a healthy portion of the offensive load, especially on Montreal's beleaguered power play. His ability to shut down opposing defenders has also improved, although it's the electric edge he plays the game with that will continue to turn heads.
Jeff Petry, recently re-signed after being picked up at the last trade deadline, is a key part of what makes this blue line one of the strongest in the game. He's an underrated defender and will be fun to watch. The same might not be said for Andrei Markov, who will turn 37 years old this season. His veteran presence in the locker room will be an important one, but you have to expect that his ice time will be reduced from last year's average time on ice of 24:55 over 81 games.
Ultimately, though, the biggest questions surrounding this team remain its ability to find the back of the net.
Case in point: young wingers Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk. Both have endured two full seasons in the NHL and both have seen their ice time and point totals increase. Due to lingering concerns regarding Max Pacioretty's health, you have to imagine many in and around Montreal are whispering about the likelihood of each hitting the 30-goal mark after netting 24 and 20 goals last season, respectively.
That would be a tremendous boon to the team's offence but those whispers should probably stay at that level. Gallagher, love him or hate him, displays a tremendous work ethic and a tenacity needed on this team. His strong possession numbers are notable, especially on a club that ranked so poorly as a whole, but he can't shoulder the load completely. Attempts to drive play himself could bring him back to the mid-20 goal range but anything more is ambitious.
Galchenyuk, meanwhile, has struggled to find himself on the wing after being drafted as a centre. Given his lanky frame and defensive struggles early in his career, a move to the wing makes sense—all the more considering he could be given top-line minutes if Pacioretty doesn't completely recover.
With increased offence could come more trust from team brass up the middle. How much would an offensively dominant Galchenyuk, ripe with a keen vision, help the team? Look no further than Monday night's preseason tilt against the Penguins—Galchenyuk looked impressive entering the offensive zone with controlled entries and also displayed his ability to play a 200-foot game. He was named first star of the night and Habs fans had every right to be giddy. This is Galchenyuk's year to hit the big time.
That leaves us with Pacioretty, the newly-named captain and the only Canadien to hit 30 goals last season. There are doubts he'll be ready in time for the Oct. 7 season opener (he only returned to practice with teammates Sept. 24 following offseason knee injury). If he finds his game quickly, 35 goals is not out of the question.
If the injury lingers, however, and Pacioretty doesn't return to form quickly, the Canadiens could find themselves in a hole they haven't demonstrated the ability to score themselves out of. Price has proven capable of doing just about everything else, so perhaps Bergevin will turn to him and see if he's into spending some time on the left wing, as well.
Price, yet again, has to shoulder a significant load and be masterful between the pipes. Carrying the Canadiens won't be an easy task, but expect him to be up for the challenge.