You know the off season has started to stretch a little too long when you start counting down the days to the drop of the puck for the first pre season game. I must admit I am entirely way too excited for that first game against the Stars on September 19th. Throughout the summer the same questions about the Habs’ upcoming season have been dissected by anyone and everyone over and over. Will Gomez turn it around this year? Can Price match last season’s performance or even top it? Will Markov stay healthy? Will Cole turn out to be the power forward this franchise has been looking for since John Leclair was shipped off to Philly?
Instead of focusing on the same issues that have been discussed all summer long and dissecting the moves Pierre Gauthier made in the off season I am going to make 7 prediction for the upcoming season.
1. Pacioretty scores 25+ - I’m not as worried as many people seem to be about Max Pacioretty regaining his form from last season. After spending the first quarter of last season in Hamilton, Patches finally showed he has what it takes to be a permanent fixture on the Habs roster. He brought size to the Gomez/Gionta line and provided a spark on the powerplay. From hearing him speak since his injury last season about how hard he’s been working to get back into shape and how pumped he is for the start of the season, I genuinely believe he is going to pick up from where he left off last season. He’s going to get plenty of time on the powerplay which brings me to my next prediction…
2. Habs earn top PP in the East – This is a pretty bold statement considering Stamkos alone can carry the Lightning powerplay to the top and Pittsburgh proved last year they can be deadly even without Crosby. But just think of all the options the Habs have this year by simply getting Markov back. Markov’s backdoor pinches were missed last year, not to mention his crisp passes and shot from the point. You put him on the point with Subban and the powerplay is less predictable. Now throw Cammalleri along the sideboards and Markov has two great one timers to feed. How does Cole or Pacioretty planting in front of the net for the rebound sound? Weber continues to improve and I haven’t even mentioned Gionta yet. This powerplay will be dangerous but it definitely depends on prediction number 3.
3. Markov will play 65+ games – It’s hard to tell if this is a prediction or just me hoping. There really is no way to tell how many games anybody will play in any given season. If Markov was returning from one or more concussions I wouldn’t touch this prediction but honestly, his injuries have been freak accidents and karma has got to be on his side.
4. Gomez gets 60+ pts – Saying Scott Gomez will have a better campaign in 2011-2012 seems too easy, how can he not? Last season was pretty pathetic. Say what you want about his salary, he is still a skilled player. I hate that he makes that money but people who actually expect Gomez to live up to his contract upset me more than his paltry 39 point total last year. He can skate, he has vision and most importantly, he has Mighty Max. I think Gomez is going to benefit from Pacioretty’s breakout season. Patches has the size and drive to hit the net hard and Gomer has the ability to feed players in scoring position. I think Plekanec, Cammalleri and Cole will be the Habs top producing line but Patches, Gomez and Gionta will not disappoint.
5. Subban enjoys a breakout season with 20 goals and an All Star appearance – P.K. Subban scored 14 goals last season and led the Habs with 124 PIM’s (most minors in the league). This year I see him reducing his penalty minutes to around 100 and getting max powerplay time, some of which will be on the same unit as Markov. If the powerplay does as well as I feel it will and he replaces time in the box with time on the ice then I don’t see 20 goals being much of a stretch. As for the all star game, Markov makes players better (what happened to Komisarek without Marky?) Subban is a quick learner and he will continue to learn from the players around him, and when you’re surrounded by a defensive core like Markov, Gorges and the father figure type Hal Gill how can you not be molded into an all star?
6. Top 6 finish in the East – At least. If Price gives another great year then the slightly upgraded offence, solid d and strong PP should spell the end of the push for 7th at the end of the year. I almost went as far as to predict home ice advantage in the playoffs but a lot of teams in the East bolstered their line ups and it promises to be a tough battle for those top 4 spots.
7. Kostitsyn finishes the year in a Habs uniform – Why?….would you take him? One of two things will happen, he will continue to be a streaky player with too much downside for any GM to touch, or, he plays as well as he can, impressing the non-believers and making his stock go up in the process. In this case Gauthier will be tempted to keep him for a strong playoff run or dangle him around the league as trade bait. At this point in his career though, I feel too many GM’s know about his lack of consistency to send anyone who can provide immediate help our way and if the Habs do ship him off they will need to replace him with a player who can help push for a successful playoff run. Besides, why wouldn’t anyone interested just let him finish the season here and make a move in July? At this point I don’t think it’s a secret that AK46 isn’t enjoying his time in Montreal much anymore.
I have to say I am pretty confident with my predictions but if there is anything other than injuries that can stop them from coming true it’s the loss of Kirk Muller. Captain Kirk was the brains behind the powerplay and the voice between the players and coach. Let’s just hope Andrei Markov can work his magic to make the powerplay work.