Canadiens’ success is based on how they handle the first quarter of the season

It seems unlikely there will be a playoff spot in a loaded Atlantic Division, but the key is to stay away until reinforcements arrive.

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Before last season, general manager Marc Bergevin said the Canadiens would not be happy simply to make the playoffs.

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It was a rare sign of bravery from someone who usually plays his cards near his colorful haberdashery but, after entering the postseason, the Canadiens transformed Bergevin’s vision into reality by reaching the Stanley Cup final.

There have been no bold pronouncements about the Canadiens’ prospects for the season, which begins Wednesday with a road game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. (7 pm, SN, SN360, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

That’s because Canadians enter the season surrounded by uncertainty and at best, the team struggles to stay in contention for the fourth and final playoff spot in a strong Atlantic Division.

The Canadiens’ success will depend on how they handle the first quarter of the season. They open without three major players – goalkeeper Carey Price, defender Joel Edmundson and forward Mike Hoffman – and the key is to stay clear of a pay point until reinforcements arrive.

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Price’s absence is the biggest concern. He will miss at least 13 games while going through the NHL / NHLPA player assistance program and Jake Allen should do most of the work on goal. He’s coming off his first season below .500 in the NHL and didn’t look good in his last two preseason games. It will also support a defense riddled with questions.

While he waits for Edmundson to return, he will be out for two weeks, Jeff Petry will be paired with Brett Kulak, who was in and out of the lineup during the playoffs. Ben Chiarot will be paired with newcomer David Savard, who is a demotion from Shea Weber, while Alexander Romanov, who was not considered good enough to play regularly in the playoffs, will start with Chris Wideman, who is trying to reestablish himself after being named the best defender in the KHL last season.

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The important thing for defenders is to play within their abilities and try not to do things they cannot. Head coach Dominique Ducharme was unhappy with the overall defensive play during the preseason, but is confident the Canadiens can succeed if they embrace the concept of playing in five-man units and support each other.

Forwards have the potential to be very good and Ducharme could reach his goal of having scorers on every line. The first three lines have been established since the start of training camp and Hoffman, who has resumed skating and could play next week, is a wild card.

When he returns, he’ll be on the fourth line, which looks like a loss for a player capped at $ 4.5 million. But Hoffman will add value to the power play and Ducharme won’t hesitate to move him up the depth chart if Jonathan Drouin or Joel Armia fail to produce. He could also be pressured for service if the Canadians find themselves behind in a game. The blow against Hoffman is that he doesn’t pay much attention to defense. In his most productive season with Florida in 2018-19, he scored 36 goals and 34 assists.

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It may seem counterintuitive, but the power play may be better without Weber and his big shot. There was a tendency for the power play to go static when teammates tried to groom Weber. The current version has more options.

The Canadiens have continued development from Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Jake Evans, and Christian Dvorak is an improvement on Jesperi Kotkaniemi. It may not be realistic to think that Tyler Toffoli can score at the same rate as last season, but he and Brendan Gallagher will both benefit from the crackdown on cross-checks.

With Tampa Bay, Boston, Florida and Toronto on their way, a playoff spot seems unlikely, but no one expected the Canadiens to go as far as they did last season.

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Reference-montrealgazette.com

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