47-25-10, 1st in East; lost in second round to Flyers
G Marc Denis, C Robert Lang, LW Georges Laraque, LW Alex Tanguay
RW Michael Ryder, C Bryan Smolinski, D Mark Streit
THIS IS one
five-year plan that worked. Drafting judiciously and developing players
deliberately, general manager Bob Gainey has righted the stumbling organization
and is delivering a Stanley Cup contender on schedule and in time for the
Canadiens' celebration of their 100th year.
It even appeared
last spring that Montreal might be 12 months ahead of plan, but its surprising
first-place Eastern Conference finish (fueled by flashy winger Alexei Kovalev's
comeback season and a freakish run of good health that resulted in a mere 109
man-games lost to injury) was followed by a disappointing second-round exit
from the playoffs. Gainey has since upgraded his team to a level that has then
mayor Jean Drapeau's renowned 1969 remark about the Stanley Cup parade—"the
usual route"—on the tip of Montrealers' tongues.
uncertainty involves the power play. After fretting about the departure of free
agent Sheldon Souray a year ago, the Canadiens eschewed the concept of a
traditional power-play unit, stuck with their regular lines and finished first
in the league with 90 man-up goals, splitting them evenly between home and the
road. With the catalyst of that power play, Mark Streit, lost to free agency,
Montreal will need special teams help from Kovalev and perhaps trade
acquisition Robert Lang, a 37-year-old with a righthanded shot whose legs are
tired but whose hands are still sweet.
precocious second-year goalie Carey Price can avoid a meltdown in the
playoffs—Philadelphia's insistent pressure got to him last spring—the Canadiens
are deep enough to vie for a spot in the finals. For Montreal anything less
will be a lousy birthday present.
41-29-12, 8th in East; lost in first round to Canadiens