Ah, October. The leaves are changing, it's eleven degrees celsius in Montreal today so you know that three week period we call "fall" will soon become winter. The NFL is in full swing, MLB playoffs are getting underway and best of all, the Canadiens are about to embark on the teams 100th season weighed down by expectations and buoyed by the fact that Montreal is more excited about the Habs this year than they ever have been in my lifetime.
The expectation has to be a berth in the Conference or, dare I say, Stanley Cup finals. They have the team to do it and competing in the weaker Eastern Conference will do wonders for their chances. The hope of winning a Stanley Cup is unrealistic to me. We saw a Detroit team at the Bell Centre without its three best players (Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom) and managed a shootout win thanks to Carey Price's heroics in goal.
That Detroit team is scary. Adding Marian Hossa to a group of that calibre means that they have a number one line as good or better than any in the NHL. Having guys like Johan Franzen, Mikael Samuelsson and Tomas Holmstrom, to name a few, means depth and a second power play unit better than most teams number one unit.
All that being said, you have to like the Habs chances of repeating as Eastern Conference regular season champions.
Buffalo could have a bounce back year but there are big question marks for them on defence and at the forward positions. I see them back in the playoffs but not contenders for the Northeast crown.
Ottawa is thin on defence and in goal and depend far too heavily on their top line. They have a lot of good role players but no second line. They will contend for a playoff spot.
Boston is the wild card for me. They had an amazing season last year without Patrice Bergeron, who has looked excellent in the preseason. Tim Thomas carried the team in goal last year. He isn't even guaranteed a roster spot this year because youngster Tuuka Rask has been great and big money earner Manny Fernandez is now healthy. I think the Bruins will compete for anywhere between 7th and 10th place. Remember, they're pretty good when they're not playing the Canadiens.
The Leafs will be better than most think and probably won't end up with next year's number one pick, something many Leafs fans want. They will not make the playoffs.
The Canadiens should win the Northeast as long as they stay reasonably healthy. Losing Alex Kovalev for an extended period could be disastrous but the depth this team has could make up for it. The power play would take a huge hit however.
Carey Price will bounce back from his inconsistent and at times terrible performance against Philadelphia in the second round of the playoffs last year. He is healthier, even more confident and more mature than he was last year. The number one job is his and if his preseason performances are anything to judge by he could be one of the top goaltenders in the East this year. He's only 21 but his demeanour is that of someone far older. Having a leader with a calming influence in your net works wonders for a team.
The regular season gets underway next week. If you've never seen a hockey game at the Bell Centre get down there this year. It's an addictive, adrenaline-inducing night that leaves you in a bit of a daze.