MONTREAL - The preseason schedule is finally in the books and not even a late 4-2 home loss in Saturday’s finale could put a damper on the excitement in the locker room for the pending return of regular season hockey.
Following a busy twelve days since first opening the exhibition calendar at home against the Bruins – a span over which the Habs played seven games and compiled a 4-2-1 record – training camp is officially over and the Canadiens are ready for the games to start counting for more than bragging rights.
“I think everybody’s excited about starting the regular season now and I think we’ve had enough exhibition games, but everybody’s got to go through it. It’s part of the process,” admitted P.K. Subban, who ended his preseason campaign with a goal and six assists in four games played. “We feel good about using these exhibition games to get ourselves into game shape, but now the hockey means something, so it’s exciting, for sure.”
Case in point of a team ready to move forward was head coach Michel Therrien, who used the majority of his postgame press conference to share his final thoughts on camp in its entirety, rather than the night’s contest.
“Looking back at our camp as a whole, I’m taking away a lot of positives. The guys reported to camp in great shape and with good attitudes. They competed throughout,” underlined Therrien, who nevertheless recognized a hint of impatience in his squad on Saturday.
“We came out strong tonight, but I think you could see that starting from the second period, the guys wanted to get on with the regular season already. The concentration wasn’t there anymore, but altogether, I’m extremely pleased [with how camp went].”
As eager as the players are for the regular season to start, no one has any illusions that it will be easy, not even after making it just two games shy of the Stanley Cup Finals a season ago.
“Everybody wants to beat us, we have the most Stanley Cups in the league. We’re the number one target [because] other than the Stanley Cup champions, we’re the next ones in line – everybody’s trying to catch us,” confirmed Subban, who will open the regular season in his native Toronto on Wednesday.
“There are no easy nights for us. We’ve got to be prepared to play every night, but our team has gotten better. Since I arrived here it’s been exciting to play with this team because you see the skill and the talent that we have. It’s going to be an exciting year. It’s going to come down to us sticking together", added the new alternate captain. "There’s going to be adversity, there are going to be ups and downs, and there are going to be tough times. But I look forward to those times because I know we’ll come out of them a better team. It’s going to be interesting.”
Still, If veterans like Subban are champing at the bit for October 8 to arrive, other members of the organization will have a different waiting game entirely to play over the following few days.
With a handful of cuts remaining to be made before the Canadiens open the season with a four-game road trip, some players will be sitting tight to just find out where, exactly, they’ll be playing in 2014-15.
“The next couple of hours will be difficult. There are always decisions which can be tough to make, but we won’t make them tonight, nor tomorrow,” admitted Therrien. “We’ll regroup and discuss everything together.”
The notable position battles remaining to be resolved before cutting the roster down to the permitted 23 players include at goaltender – where Peter Budaj and Dustin Tokarski are contending for the backup spot behind Carey Price – on the blue line – where Nathan Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi and Francis Bouillon are all vying for the final spot on the Habs’ D – and up in front – where forwards Jiri Sekac and Jacob De La Rose have both surprised throughout camp.
Following his fifth preseason game of training camp, meanwhile, Sekac for his part is aware of his newest reality and is taking the rest in stride.
“There’s nothing else to do right now, so I’ll wait for the results. Hopefully I’ve proved that I’m ready. I think I got better every game, so my confidence is high right now.”
Steven Nechay is a writer for canadiens.com
Words from the room