Opening Cuts Made; Games Played

With the first week of the preseason over and done with, few know whether to be optimistic or not regarding the teams season. The biggest question mark going into the exhibition games was the play of goaltender Carey Price, who responded to his critics by losing his opening two starts with a goals against average of 6.67 before finally winning his latest start Monday night against the Panthers, and while Price might not be losing any sleep over his lackluster opening starts, some die hard fans will. Also in the negatives through one week would be the defense man Jaroslav Spacek, who through the first couple of games seemed to have forgotten which team he plays for, handing the opposition golden scoring chances and a few goals as well before scoring one for himself in the first period against the Panthers.

On the other hand, there have been more than a few positives, some surprising, some not. Tomas Plekanec has been by far the most dynamic offensive threat, making creative plays every time he has the puck while leading the team with four goals in the three games he has played (tying the league lead with Foligno and Perry), and looks poised to have another great season on both sides of the ice. Another notable has been Ryan White. The young gritty forward has been a dynamo in these opening games, hitting everything that moves, playing solid defensively, protecting his teammates by fighting, all while chipping in a few goals. White may be one of the players who is a victim of circumstance, with barely any room to crack on the roster. At the very least, he’ll be one of the first call-ups in case of injury, as he is one of the more NHL ready young players fighting for a spot with the big club.

All this, however, led to cuts on Monday, leaving 16 hopefuls down to try and crack the minor league roster. While none were overly shocking, the quick assignment of Alexander Avstin to the AHL without playing a single preseason game leaves one thinking that he might be injured, potentially aggravating his wrist injury sustained last season in Russia, despite what some might have you believe about Montreal simply hating Russians. Cutting Palushaj was also one of the more controversial choices, as he was one of the brighter offensive sparks among rookies through the first couple of games.

All in all, it has been an eventful week with much discussion. Price needs to prove he can play at a consistent level, while others simply need to prove that they still remember how to play, period (Spacek being one of the few vets that this applies to). The Canadiens continue their preseason against the Sabres on Thursday night, and if this first week was any indication, we should be in for some interesting plays, hits, and potential defensive meltdowns.

Training Camp Thoughts

With the start of the season right around the corner after an improbable run to the Eastern Conference finals last spring, the talk of the town is all on the training camp. Fans raging over the trade of playoff hero Jaroslav Halak have been keeping a keen eye on acquired forwards Eller and Schultz. While neither player can be expected to play as large a role as Halak played last season (playing a different position being a major factor why), the two young men have garnered quite a bit of attention. Schultz, the 6′ 1 winger, impressed many with his work ethic and attention to the physical side of the game, while showing that he can chip in offensively, scoring a goal in the second day of camp. While not expected to make the team (possibly due to the apparent aversion Canadiens brass has to physical forwards over 6′), fans now see that “the other guy we got for Halak” can at the very least play the game. More importantly, Lars Eller, the main return in the Halak trade, has also impressed fans and coaches alike, for different reasons. While not scoring a goal in his inter-squad scrimmages, Eller displayed nice poise with the puck, good playmaking skills and above average vision, finding some nice chemistry with Russian prospect Alexander Avstin, who scored twice this camp and he himself displayed some skills of his own.

The vets are of course the real center of attention, however for the most part have remained fairly quiet stat wise, which is not too concerning due to the fact that these games mean essentially nothing. While the depth players have been getting some attention with Moen and Pyatt scoring goals, and Lapierre adding two of his own (not to mention O’Byrne showing that he actually does know how to hit the net with a shot, giving him the only goal he’ll score all year), the big guns have remained fairly quiet, Plekanec being the most impressive. Coming off a great season, Plekanec, scoring a goal and adding another in the shootout, looks poised both physically and mentally to justify the five million dollars he’ll be making over the next six years.

The first five cuts of training camp were made Monday, leaving Lefebvre, Ellis, Gallagher, Stejskal and Champion all off the final roster, deemed not ready for NHL duty, although I for one wouldn’t be surprised if the local media were to claim anti-french bias to defend local boys Lefebvre and Champion. I mean come on, his name is Champion. It’s obvious he has all the tools to succeed in the NHL, right?