After a magical postseason run to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Montreal Canadiens will enter this season without the player who was most responsible for getting them there.
Goaltender Jaroslav Halak was traded to St. Louis and signed a four-year deal with the Blues in June. The 25-year-old Halak had a 2.55 goals-against average and .923 save percentage as he almost singlehandedly defeated the top-seeded Washington Capitals in the first round and the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round.
With Halak gone, the Habs will turn to the 23-year-old Carey Price, who has had his ups and downs since his stellar rookie season in 2007-08.
"He has proven that he has what it takes to be a good goaltender in the League, and we are confident he will perform to the best of his abilities for years to come in a Canadiens uniform," Canadiens General Manager Pierre Gauthier said after inking Price to a two-year deal during the summer.
It will be a huge season for Price, who no longer has Halak lurking over his shoulder. The Canadiens brought in Alex Auld as a backup, but he shouldn't threaten Price's job. Last season, Price struggled and played in just 41 regular-season games before deferring to Halak for most of the playoffs.
"For me personally, I know I have to play better. I'm not putting the onus on anybody else," Price said. "It's something I'm going to have to do and we're going to have to do it as a team. We're all going to have to play well in order to win and I personally want to play better.
"Last year was definitely challenging for me. It's never easy not to play, but being able to learn lessons like that at a young age definitely helped. This past season, I learned that ice time isn't just given to you; it's earned."
Gone are left wing Sergei Kostitsyn (dealt to Nashville for restricted free-agent goaltender Dan Ellis, who decided not to sign in Montreal), checking center Dominic Moore, who signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent, and Glen Metropolit, who's now playing in Switzerland.
New faces include Jeff Halpern, who will fill the role played by Moore, and center Dustin Boyd, who spent four seasons with the Calgary Flames before being dealt to Nashville during last season.
The returning stars up front are Michael Cammalleri, Tomas Plekanec, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta. Cammalleri was everything the Habs wanted when they signed him to a five-year contract in July 2009. He had 26 goals and 50 points in 65 games and really made his mark during the postseason with 13 goals and 19 points in 19 games.
Gomez returns for his second season in Montreal after 12 goals and 47 assists in 2009-10. Plekanec was rewarded with a six-year, $30 million contract in July after posting career-highs in goals (25) and assists (45) in 82 games. Gionta reportedly will be named captain after one season with the Canadiens. He's coming off a 28-goal season, his best since scoring 48 with the New Jersey Devils in 2005-06.
Marc-Andre Bergeron and Paul Mara weren't brought back, likely opening the door for a full-time spot for P.K. Subban, who showed flashes of brilliance after being called up during the playoffs.
Andrei Markov missed a huge chunk of time last season due mostly to an ankle injury that cost him 35 games. He also missed 13 playoff games due to a knee injury and is still rehabbing during training camp. Roman Hamrlik, Hal Gill, Jaroslav Spacek, Ryan O'Byrne and Josh Gorges will likely comprise the rest of the defensive corps.
It's unquestionably Price's job now, but whether he runs with it or stumbles remains to be seen. Auld will be his backup, but the Canadiens will likely give Price a lot of rope this season.
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