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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

All-Canadian Division Rival Preview: Montreal Canadiens

Let’s get to know our rivals from the All-Canadian Division. Today, we have the Montreal Canadiens. 

The Habs are the biggest wild-card in the All-Canadian Division.

Last summer’s major playoff upset over the heavily-favoured Penguins coupled with the team’s great play against Canadian opponents lends reason to believe the Habs can do some damage in a 56-game sprint. 

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The 2019-20 season…

31-31-9 (71 points), 5th in Atlantic Division 

Goals For: 212 (18th of 31), Goals Against: 221 (23rd of 31)

10-3-2 vs Canadian opponents

2-0-0 vs CGY, 0-2-0 vs EDM, 3-0-1 vs OTT, 3-0-0 vs TOR, 1-0-1 vs VAN, 1-1-0 vs WPG

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As I said, the Habs were a mediocre team during the 2019-20 season. They had a 31-31-9 record when the season got paused due to COVID-19, ranked in the middle of the pack in terms of goals scored, and towards the bottom of the league in goals against.

Much like with the Chicago Blackhawks out west, it was only because the league opted to roll with 24 playoff teams that Montreal made it to the dance. And, again like the Blackhawks, the Habs seized that opportunity.

In their play-in round series, Montreal shocked the No. 5 seeded Penguins with a 3-1 series win. This upset can largely be chalked up to some sublime play from Carey Price, who stopped 126 of 133 shots that the Penguins threw at him over those four games.

Of course, it’s important not to overreact to a series like this. A five-game play-in round is a small sample size and upsets are inevitable. Add in the fact that teams were playing through the unique experience of revving up after being off for three months and it becomes even more clear that we shouldn’t draw overarching conclusions about what went down last summer.

The more interesting thing with Montreal from 2019-20 is the fact they played really, really well against Canadian clubs, the same six they’re going to be seeing exclusively in 2021. Despite their mediocre record, Montreal went 10-3-2 against Canadian opponents, with the Oilers being the only one of the six they didn’t beat at least once.

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2021 season outlook… 

Notable Additions: Josh Anderson, Tyler Toffoli, Joel Edmundson, Jake Allen, Corey Perry, Michael Frolik.

Notable Subtractions: Max Domi, Karl Alzner, Dale Wiese, Keith Kinkaid. 

The Habs had a bit of a strange off-season, but it appears on paper that they’re a better team this year than they were last year.

Montreal came into the off-season with a lot of salary cap room to work with and they went ahead and used all of it. The Habs inked sniper Tyler Toffoli and rugged defender Joel Edmundson to four-year deals worth $4,250,000 and $3,500,000 annually, signed veteran forwards Corey Perry and Michael Frolik to one-year deals, and traded for goaltender Jake Allen.

The real shocker came when they dealt Maxi Domi to Columbus in exchange for Josh Anderson. Domi was third on the Habs with 44 points last season and is just one year removed from a 72-point showing. Anderson, on the other hand, has a career-high of 47 points and is coming off of a season in which he mustered one goal and three assists. Montreal also went ahead and gave Anderson a seven-year extension worth $5,500,000 annually.

Both the trade and signing were bizarre, but, again, the off-season looks like a net positive for Montreal. Toffoli is a nice addition to the top-six, Edmundson is a quality bottom-pairing defender, and Allen gives the team a quality veteran option in net to ensure that Price isn’t worked into the ground.

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As great as Price was during the playoff last summer, he had a difficult go during the regular season. Price started 58 of Montreal’s 71 games and posted a .909 save percentage. As I said, the hope is that Allen can help take the pressure off of Price, but that isn’t a guarantee. Allen was great in 2019-20, posting a .927 save percentage over 24 games, but he had a .906 save percentage in 101 games over the previous two seasons before that.

Montreal has a better roster this year than last, so the pressure on Price isn’t quite as extreme, but, ultimately, goaltending will be the life and death of the Habs, and that’s what makes them such a wild-card.

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