Canadiens season preview: Prices health key to success

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The 2021-22 NHL season starts Oct. 12. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lineup for each of the 32 teams. Today, the Montreal Canadiens.

Coach: Dominique Ducharme (second season)

Last season: 24-21-11; fourth in Scotia North Division, lost to Tampa Bay Lighting in Stanley Cup Final

3 KEYS

1. Overcoming loss of Weber

Shea Weber will be out for the season and has possibly played his last NHL game. The 36-year-old defenseman’s absence due to several injuries vaults Jeff Petry and Joel Edmundson to top pair status. Ben Chiarot, Weber’s partner, is likely to play with David Savard, who signed a four-year contract on July 28. Coach Dominique Ducharme suggested that Savard will provide similar qualities to Weber, but Weber’s leadership on and off the ice will be difficult to replace.

2. Health of Price

Carey Price‘s leadership will be needed and his return to health will be crucial. The goalie helped the Canadiens come within three wins of Montreal’s first Stanley Cup since 1993 while playing through several injuries. The 34-year-old, who is preparing for his 15th NHL season, has begun skating and working out while recovering from arthroscopic surgery July 22 for a torn meniscus in his knee. His play will have a big impact on the Canadiens’ fortunes, regardless of whether or not he is ready for the regular-season opener at the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 13.

Video: Montreal Canadiens 2021-22 Season Preview

3. Power-play production

A full season with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield and the addition of forward Mike Hoffman could be what the Canadiens need to improve the power play, which ranked tied for 17th in the NHL last season (19.2 percent). The return of forward Jonathan Drouin, who took a leave of absence April 28 and missed the postseason due to anxiety issues, is another potential boost to the power play that has to overcome the loss of Weber. Christian Dvorak, who was acquired in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes on Sept. 4 for two picks in the 2022 NHL Draft, will also be in the mix on the power play, which will be anchored by Petry.

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Position battles

Depth up front means a talented forward will be the odd man out on opening night as long as everyone is healthy. Forward Ryan Poehling will have to battle with newcomers Mathieu Perreault and Cedric Paquette, and Jake Evans, Joel Armia, Artturi Lehkonen for the final four spots up front with Paul Byron out recovering from hip surgery. On defense, Mattias Norlinder and Chris Wideman will push Alexander Romanov and Brett Kulak for the final two spots.

Most intriguing addition 

Although he was acquired after Jesperi Kotkaniemi signed an offer sheet with the Carolina Hurricanes as a restricted free agent, Dvorak will help address several of the roles previously entrusted to Phillip Danault, who signed a six-year contract with the Los Angeles Kings on July 28. Dvorak’s 52.1 face-off winning percentage last season was a slight drop from his 55.1 percent in 2019-20, but his success there as will his ability to play on special teams and his shootout success rate (4-for-4 last season), should help Montreal.

Biggest potential surprise

Drouin scored 23 points (two goals, 21 assists) in 44 games before leaving the team but could see those numbers increase this season under Ducharme, who coached him with Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League when he was named Canadian Major Junior Player of the Year in 2012-13. Drouin has scored 232 points (69 goals, 163 assists) in 393 regular-season games with the Lightning and Canadiens. 

Ready to break through

Caufield gave the Canadiens a glimpse of what he’s capable of last season, scoring his first two NHL goals in overtime in consecutive games. After sitting out the first two games of the postseason, the 20-year-old scored 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 20 Stanley Cup Playoff games while forming chemistry with Suzuki.

Fantasy sleeper 

Dvorak (fantasy average draft position: 165.0) has sneaky upside in late rounds with exposure to valuable wings like Hoffman, Drouin and Brendan Gallagher over the course of the season. Dvorak, attainable in the late rounds of a fantasy draft, had the best goals (0.30) and points-per-game averages (0.55) of his NHL career last season and brings added appeal in leagues that include blocked shots (45 in 56 games). — Pete Jensen

Projected lineup

Tyler Toffoli — Nick Suzuki — Cole Caufield

Jonathan Drouin — Christian Dvorak — Mike Hoffman

Josh Anderson — Jake Evans — Brendan Gallagher

Artturi Lehkonen — Mathieu Perreault — Joel Armia

Joel Edmundson — Jeff Petry

Ben Chiarot — David Savard

Alexander Romanov — Brett Kulak

Carey Price

Jake Allen

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