This article was first published in the September 24th edition of Main Street Week and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by Main Street Week News to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday.
Training camps are underway throughout the National Hockey League, as all thirty teams prepare for the long march towards the Stanley Cup playoffs in April. After numerous roster moves during the summer and a clean slate for a new season, it is the time of year when every fan believes their team has a chance to compete for the Cup. However, with that clean slate, expectations for a successful season are at their peak; nowhere are those expectations higher then in Montreal.
The Canadiens were the Cinderella story of the 2010 playoffs, weaving their way past the high-powered Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins before the clock struck midnight against the Philadelphia Flyers. While the journey to the Eastern Conference Final was an exciting one, it does not guarantee a return trip this year. The Eastern Conference is tighter then ever and the battle for playoff positioning begins with game one. With the extra point available for a shootout win, victories in October are just as important as victories in March.
At the forefront of every analyst’s mind heading into the season is how will Carey Price react to the responsibilities of becoming the number one goaltender? According to reports out of Montreal’s camp, Price looks fit and prepared after his summer workouts, and he will need to be ready for a strong year with the departure of Jaroslav Halak. Newly acquired backup Alex Auld is a good number two goaltender but he is streaky - when he is hot, look out... when he is not, watch out.
Montreal does not have the luxury of a 1A and 1B goaltending scenario this year; if Carey Price does not become the “thoroughbred” Bob Gainey and the Canadiens management group believe him to be, it could be a very long year. Having said that, it is important for Habs fans (and sports writers) to remember that the clean slate applied to the rest of the team, also applies to Price; while it is easy to expect the worst from him after his recent struggles, he has proven to be a winner at every level of hockey. Through hard work and his playoff performances, Jaroslav Halak earned his playing time and a place in the hearts of Habs fans. In his new role as the official number one goaltender, Price deserves the same opportunity to shine in Montreal.
One date Habs fans will have circled on their calendar is February 20, 2011 when the Canadiens travel to Calgary’s McMahon Stadium to battle the Flames in the 2011 Heritage Classic. The first outdoor Heritage Classic occurred in 2003, as the Oilers and Canadiens played an alumni game, followed by a regular season NHL game. The event was such a success, the league has continued staging the event as the Winter Classic, held every New Year’s Day in the United States. This will be the first outdoor game in Canada since the 2003 event.
Where will Montreal finish in the Eastern Conference this year? While I do not believe the Canadiens will take the top spot in their division (I have Ottawa winning the Northeast Division this season), they will certainly challenge for a playoff position. Their playoff success last year demonstrated it does not matter where you rank in the Conference, as long as you qualify anything can happen. The regular season starts Thursday, October 7th in Toronto against the Maple Leafs, with the first home game on Saturday, October 9th versus the Pittsburgh Penguins. Let the games begin! Have a great sports day everyone.