Alrighty then, the preseason schedule has officially ended for the Montreal Canadiens.
And is it about time, Carey Price?
“Yeeeeah. It sure is,” he drawled after the Habs’ 3-1 win over an Ottawa Senators lineup made up largely of minor-leaguers and prospects.
At various point in the preseason we’ve offered up impressions of things that could be learned from the games, but with camp wrapping up this weekend – rosters must be finalized by Sept. 30 – perhaps it would be more appropriate to roll out some Stuff to Argue About.
And let’s face it, there was very little to be learned from Thursday’s game.
First up: Daniel Brière is indeed still a top six player. There’s a case to be made his vision and puck skills are going to transform the line he plays on with Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais, nominally the Habs’ first line. Yes, he’s small, yes, he’s old, but the man still has himself a pair of slick hands. The preseason showed he can have a major influence on the power-play – with the right-handed one-timer and his patience on the half-wall – and his understanding with his new linemates is only going to improve. Hate the signing all you want, he’ll help this team.
The kid line: Lars Eller, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher played as a line throughout camp, and the initial hope was they could push for first-line minutes this season. They still might, but there was little in the way of evidence that it’s going to happen any time soon. Galchenyuk scored a goal Thursday, and they’ve generated lots of chances, but they’re not the polished article, and in the games where they were counted on to shoulder the load, they didn’t exactly fill the net. No one’s saying they’ll have to when the pucks start flying for real on Oct. 1, but any hope the Habs have of being any good will rest at least in part on this line progressing this season.
Carey Price: He looked calm and composed against Ottawa, but then the Sens only had perhaps five or six legit NHLers in the lineup. No matter how good or bad a pre-season Price has, he’ll be a lightning rod for disagreement. So have at it. After the game Price talked about some of the technical refinements he’s made working with new position coach Stephane Waite, some of which are fairly significant, like having Price stay on his feet longer to move laterally and taking the time to generate proper leverage when he’s in recovery mode. “Sometimes slower is faster, if that makes any sense,” Price said.
The 30-plus line: Not goals, years. Rene Bourque, Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta are all in their 30s, and while the first two have given credible accounts of themselves in camp – the shot Plekanec ripped past Craig Anderson’s right lug-hole on Thursday was an absolute peach – the sample size is too small to say the same about Gionta. The captain looked fine against Ottawa, and he seems to have rehabbed his torn biceps like a fiend, but it’s an open question as to whether he’ll be able to hold up for anything close to a full season. He’s only played a full season in Montreal once since coming over from Jersey as a free agent in 2009, and this team needs him not just to be around, but to be good. These guys are going to log heavy two-way minutes against opposing top lines again this year.
Jarred Tinordi: Is the 2010 first rounder ready for prime time? He’ll have to be. Coach Michel Therrien announced the six-foot-six Tinordi will start the season with the Habs. But it’s a worthwhile question to ask whether a 21-year-old second-year pro might be better served logging big dog minutes in Hamilton rather than a third-pairing role in Montreal. With Douglas Murray and Davis Drewiske injured, he’ll have a chance to make his case that he belongs. The big man started camp brilliantly, but has slowed down a little, perhaps owing to the fact the coaches have played him more than any Hab in the preseason games, presumably to get a good, long look at him. He brings a physical defensive game and will see time on the penalty kill, but he’s clearly uncomfortable playing on the right side at this level, which is where the Habs need help. The guess is Francis Bouillon will shift over, and while he has lots of experience, he’s not as effective on his off-side.
The fourth line: Coach Michel Therrien said after the game that youngster Michael Bournival will start the season with the big club. Bournival was the Habs’ joint-leading goal scorer of the preseason, and can play either centre or on the wing. He’s fast, too, although Anderson showed him on Thursday he’ll need to be more decisive when he’s alone in front of a proper NHL goalie. For all the grief the Habs get for moves like trading Ryan McDonagh to the Rangers for Scott Gomez and a bag of pucks, they did all right for themselves in the deal that sent Ryan O’Byrne to Colorado for Bournival (who had been a third-rounder). Bournival gives the Habs some skill and speed in the bottom six, even though they’ll likely dress bruisers Ryan White, George Parros and Brandon Prust whenever Toronto or Boston rolls into town.
So are they ready? Impossible to know, really. But that’s the fun of arguing, isn’t it?