Hockey, Sports

NHL season preview: The Canadiens off to a strong start

The NHL season began on Jan. 13 under very different circumstances due to the ongoing pandemic. The league has been split up into the North division, encompassing all Canadian teams, and the East, West, and Central Divisions splitting the eastern, western, and central United States. The season will also be much shorter than previous seasons, with 56 games instead of 82. 

Going into the season, the favourites in the North Division were the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, with Joe Thorton and Nick Robertson currently injured, the season could take a very different turn. In the East Division, the Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, and Washington Capitals all have promising Stanley Cup prospects. 

The New York Rangers are not favoured to make it far in the playoffs this season, despite their first overall selection of Alexis Lafrenière in the 2020 draft. After much anticipation of his premier season in the NHL, Lafrenière has yet to tally any points in the four games he has played with the New York Rangers. Although he has been given plenty of time on the ice and has even played on the Rangers’ first line, he is facing an issue uncommon for most star hockey players: Passing too much. Lafrenière has made a mere five shots in his first four games, and while he is known for his playmaking ability, the Rangers current 1-2-1 record could definitely benefit from some more shots on net. 

In the Central Division, the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, are favoured to repeat their success. Finally, in the West, the Vegas Golden Knights and the Colorado Avalanche are teams to keep an eye on. 

When staffers made their Stanley Cup predictions on the NHL website, 12 of the 15 believed the Avalanche would be the champions. After five games, the Avalanche have a 3-2-0 record, ranking them in the middle of their division. However, there are still over 50 games left in the season, and plenty is bound to change. The Avalanche are a skilled team led by superstar Nathan MacKinnon and other high performers like Nazim Kadri and Mikko Rantanen. Their team is significantly deeper than last season, making them a force to be reckoned with.

Although the Montreal Canadiens are not favourites to win the Stanley Cup this season, they have had a strong start. With an impressive 29 goals-for and 18 goals-against, the best goal differential in the league right now, and with 10 points, they are currently ranked first in their division and the league. 

However impressive their early performances, the Canadiens are known to start the season strong and fade as it progresses. With the shortened season, the Canadiens may be able to hold onto their momentum long enough to be in a good seed for the playoffs.

The Canadiens have added some power to both their offensive and defensive lines. Tyler Toffoli, traded from the Vancouver Canucks, has boasted five goals and eight points in six games, including two goals in a 7-3 victory against his former team. The Canadiens have also acquired Corey Perry from the Dallas Stars. In his debut in a Habs’ uniform on Jan. 23, he scored a goal and had four shots on net. 

In terms of defence, it appears that the Canadiens may have finally found a trustworthy backup goalie in Jake Allen. Allen, who has started in two of the six games so far, has won both games with four total goals-against. Allen was a starting goaltender for the Saint Louis Blues until the 2018-2019 season when Jordan Binnington took over the position, helping the Blues to their first-ever Stanley Cup victory. While Allen may have lost the spotlight, he has not lost any of his talent. Allen finished last season second in the NHL for his goals-against average of 2.15 and fourth for save percentage with .927. Ideally, Allen will be able to give goalie Carey Price the ability to rest without worrying about the fate of the team without him.

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