Today, Marc Bergevin had his season-closing press conference. Bergevin spoke highly of Brendan Gallagher and PK Subban, voiced his satisfaction in the job Michel Therrien and the rest of the coaching staff did and also backed his struggling goaltender 150%. Bergevin was very impressive, answering all the questions candidly without resorting to notes. A very engaging press conference to say the least.
Now that the bitterness of the playoff exit has subsided, its time to begin the analysis of what went right and wrong for the Habs. I will not spend too much time on the playoff exit, as its fresh on our minds and we know what went wrong: We were drastically outplayed in goal by Craig Anderson. The Habs managed to out-shoot and out-perform the Senators, only to face a brick wall in the form of Anderson.
What Went Right?
- The rookies provided a spark. Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk were not guaranteed roster spots at the start of the season. Not only did both players stick with the team, they both provided consistent energy and a spark. Paired up with new acquisition Brandon Prust, the Gally-Gally-Prusty trio helped the team to the fast start they enjoyed at the beginning of the season. For the year, Gallagher finished with 15 goals, 28 points and a +10 rating in 44 games. Gallagher was also nominated for the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year. Galchenyuk slumped briefly in the middle of the season before finishing strong. His final total was 9 goals, 27 points and a +14 rating in the full 48 games.
- Defenceman P.K. Subban was a contract holdout at the start of the season. After signing a two-year pact, he went out and scored 11 goals, 38 points and finished with a +12 rating, while manning the point on the power-play. He played solid and bought into Therrien's system very quickly. His performance this year has earned him a nomination for the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenceman. It also ensures his next contract will put him amongst the highest paid at the position.
- After playing in the KHL during the lockout, veteran Andrei Markov was able to return to playing at a high level. He managed to play in all 48 games, tallying 10 goals and 30 points. His defensive play slipped towards the end of the year. Various reasons could be behind that: age, conditioning after two lost seasons, nagging injuries or the condensed schedule. Losing defensive partner Alexei Emelin seemed to trigger the decline in Markov's performance.
- Backup goaltender Petr Budaj was outstanding in his role. Budaj filled in admirably when Price missed a few games after a bout with the flu and gave the Habs a spark and a fighting chance to win each game he played in. His highlight performance was in relief of Carey Price against the Boston Bruins on March 27th. Budaj stopped every shot he faced in overtime and the shootout as the Habs came back to stun the Bruins 6-5 in a battle for first place in the division. Budaj finished the season with an 8-1-1 record, to go along with a 2.21 Goals-Against-Average (GAA) and a .908 save percentage (SV%). His season earned him a two-year contract extension.
- Also of note, forward Brandon Prust proved to be a bargain after signing with the Habs during the off-season. Prust brought leadership, grit and an unexpected scoring punch to go along with his actual punch. Something the Habs sorely lacked up from. Prusty finished the year with 5 goals, 14 points, 100 penalty minutes and a very surprising +11 rating. I posted about Prust earlier this season as being exactly what the Habs needed. Prust also received the Jacques Beauchamp/Molson Cup trophy as the Habs unheralded MVP. Forward Lars Eller had a breakout season, continuing his trend of improving his points-per-game ratio. Until he had his face smashed in during the playoffs, Eller was a force as the second-line center and finished the regular season with 8 goals, 30 points and a +8 rating in 46 games. Youngsters Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu and Greg Pateryn all held their own as call-ups following the injuries to Rafael Diaz and Emelin. Tinordi was especially solid providing a physical presence in the playoff series against the Ottawa Senators.
What Went Wrong?
- Up front, Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais failed to carry on the success they had in 2011/12. Linemate Eric Cole underperformed and was eventually dumped on the Dallas Stars in a trade that reunited Michael Ryder with the team he broke into the NHL with. While the traded can be viewed as a success (Ryder had 10 goals, 21 points in 27 games as a Hab) and also helped by freeing up salary-cap room for next season, Desharnais failed to perform after signing a 4-year contract extension. Desharnais followed up his 60-point breakout season with a lousy 10 goals, 28 points in 48 games. He was seemingly invisible most nights, both on the ice and on the score sheet. One might consider that extension the first bad move of Bergevin's tenure. Pacioretty did lead the team in scoring, with 15 goals, 39 points in 44 games but did not have the same crease-crashing ability he displayed last year, instead developed into a perimeter player.
- In goal, Carey Price started off the season very strong and was in the early talk for the Vezina Trophy before tailing off towards the end. He was pulled in back to back games late in the season and while he did have a stellar 21-13-4 record, his 2.59 GAA and .905 SV% did not rank in the top-25 at the position. Price did nothing to silence his critics in the playoffs, finishing the Ottawa series with a 1-2 record to go along with a 3.26 GAA and .894 SV%. Price was also injured late in game 4, leaving a tied game that Ottawa eventually won. After signing a 6-year, 39 million dollar extension, more was expected from the franchise netminder. Price also opened up the debate as to whether or not he wishes to remain a Hab in his post-season remarks about the pressure of the Montreal market.
- Injuries to key contributors were a challenge the Habs faced this season. Both Rene Bourque and Rafael Diaz missed significant time with concussions and forced the Habs to juggle the lineup. Bourque contributed 7 goals, 13 pts in 27 games and Diaz added 1 goal and 14 points in his 23 games played. Defenceman Alexei Emelin was leading the team in hits and providing a solid physical presence on the blue-line before suffering a horrible knee injury in an April game against the Boston Bruins. Emelin suffered a torn ACL and his status for the start of the 2013/14 season is in question.
- Forwards Travis Moen, Colby Armstrong and Ryan White were supposed to provide a physical presence and bring some size to the lineup. Both Moen and Armstrong were disappointments, contributing 6 and 5 points, respectively. Moen did so in 45 games; Armstrong 37 games. White did provide a physical presence, but poor decision making and an inability early on to keep his emotions in check earned him a spot in Therrien's doghouse and costly penalties hurt the Habs games against the Ottawa Senators and the Buffalo Sabres. Tomas Kaberle and Yannick Weber spent most of their seasons in the press-box as healthy scratches and neither seems to have a future with the organization. Kaberle should be the Habs second amnesty buy-out after Scott Gomez was waived-goodbye prior to the start of the season.
Overall, the Canadiens as a team finished second in the Eastern Conference and won the North-East division with a 29-14-5 record, good for 63 points. Coming off a dismal 15th play finish in the East last year and expected only to challenge for a playoff spot by most critics and hockey experts leading up to the season, the Habs surprised everyone. Marc Bergevin's regime reignited the passion that was lacking, both on the ice and in the stands after last season and the 'No Excuses' motto came to define the squad. With all the positives to build on, and a strong farm system to feed off of, Bergevin has the team in a good position to become a force in the NHL. With 6 draft picks in the first 3 rounds of what is expected to be a very deep NHL entry draft, the future looks even brighter. Even after losing in the first round to the 'underdog' Ottawa Senators, the 2013 season can only be looked at as a success.
Nick M. is a transplanted Montrealer, currently living in evil LeafLand. He is a contributor here at HabsAddict.com and give him a follow, as he can often be found rambling on Twitter.