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TEAM FORECASTThe leagues highest scoring team hasn’t changed the way they approach the game; a strong contingent of forwards attack in waves, supported on the blue line by a group that excels in moving the puck up the ice. The goaltending, the teams achilles heel since moving superstar Carey Price 3 seasons ago, was addressed at the deadline when incumbent starter Kari Ramo was supplanted by John Gibson. The team immediately cut their goals against by almost a goal per game. Gibson also posted a vastly superior W-L record. The Habs obviously hope Gibson can continue to settle in during year 2 and cement the starters role. Despite the late season surge, Montreal was ousted by Buffalo in 7 games in the 2nd round. What followed in the offseason was the loss of 2 of their top 4 defensemen (Boumeester and Trouba) and the acquisition of a trio of forwards (Cervenka, Laughton and Couturier). St John Icecaps standouts Noah Juulson and Kyle Clague are the odds on favourites win the vacated blue line spots.
Up front the Habs boast both talent and depth. Danish speedster Nik Ehlers notched his first 50 goal season last year- he will once again lead the charge. His goal scoring ability land him near the top of the league. He’ll likely pair with 2012 3rd overall pick Alex Galchenyuk and 2010 1st overall pick Taylor Hall to form the Canadiens top line. The second line will be anchored by undersized two way pivot Sam Bennett (who actually outperformed Galchenyuk for the majority of last season) and power forward Evander Kane. Depth beyond the top 6, a real weakness in the past, was addressed with the acquisition of 6’5 Martin Hanzel and Sean Couturier- both of which will likely start the year on the third line. The addition of the two big, strong two way forwards will take much heat off the top two lines. Wingers Brendan Gallagher and newly inked Roman Cervenka add depth and sand paper.
The blue line has lost a lot of veteran experience over the summer as the team parted ways with it’s two most effective defensemen of 2018 (Jay Boumeester & Jacob Trouba). This, coming only months after dealing Matthew Dumba to Anaheim for goaltender John Gibson, created a real black hole in an area that wasn’t a team strength to begin with. To fill the void, the team dealt popular veteran Nick Folingo for left handed defender Jack Johnson. He will likely play 25 minutes a night, on both special teams. Also added was UFA Matt Hunwick, who will most likely play a supporting role. Rookies Noah Juulson and Kyle Clague will be given every opportunity to make an impact. If they prove capable, Montreal should have a reasonably strong blueline. They will join incumbent Seth Jones, who the team hopes can take the next step towards being a #1 defenseman. Justin Shultz and Kris Russel round out the top 4; Shultz is a talented offensive threat who struggles in his own end while Russel is the polar opposite, a shot blocking machine who lacks ideal size but plays larger.
After a campaign that produced a league worst team save pct, the Habs went out and acquired John Gibson to replace Kari Ramo at the March trade deadline. This came only 6 months after signing Ramo to an extension after a strong initial season in Montreal. Gibson immediately improved the Habs goals against by a large margin and he was signed to a long term extension in the offseason. Hopefully he will fare better than Ramo did after he signed his extension. In the offseason Ramo was let go, which means Kristers Gudlevski is the front runner to win the backup role.
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