With training camps set to begin on July 13 as part of Phase 3 of the NHL Return to Play Plan, NHL.com is taking a closer look at each of the 24 teams in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.
Today, the Montreal Canadiens.
The Montreal Canadiens were 31-31-9 (.500 points percentage) in the regular season and will enter the Stanley Cup Qualifiers as the No. 12 seed in the Eastern Conference. They will play the No. 5 seed, the Pittsburgh Penguins (40-23-6, .623), in one of eight best-of-5 series, and the winner will advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Among the 24 teams that will be competing in the qualifiers, the Canadiens had the fewest wins (31) when the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, so this unique opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup isn't lost on them.
"Obviously, looking at the standings, if it were the regular [Stanley Cup] Playoffs, we wouldn't be in," Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin said. "But we are in and we have a chance, if hockey comes back, to play playoff hockey. To play at that level, which we haven't played in a couple of years, we are fortunate. We're very happy to be in that position, and I don't think we want to waste that opportunity if hockey comes back around."
Video: Top 10 Canadiens Plays ... Thus Far
The Canadiens will be looking to advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2017, when they lost to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference First Round.
If that is to happen, they will need to find a way to generate more offense than they did in the regular season. Tomas Tatar led Montreal with an NHL career-high 61 points (22 goals, 39 assists), but he and Brendan Gallagher (22) were the only Canadiens to score more than 17 goals.
Jeff Petry (40 points in 71 games) and Shea Weber (36 points in 65 games) led the way among their defensemen, and they'll be tasked with slowing down a Penguins offense that includes Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Carey Price went 27-25-6 with a 2.79 goals-against average and .909 save percentage. Among NHL goalies who played at least 20 games this season, he was 32nd in GAA and save percentage.
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Nick Suzuki had 41 points (13 goals, 28 assists), fifth on Montreal and third among rookie forwards in the NHL behind Dominik Kubalik of the Chicago Blackhawks (46) and Victor Olofsson of the Buffalo Sabres (42). Suzuki, who never played more than 65 games during any of his four seasons of junior hockey, struggled late in the regular season, getting one assist in his final nine games.
Video: ANA@MTL: Suzuki beats Gibson with wrister for PPG
Where will the goals come from? Among the 24 teams in the qualifiers, Montreal was 19th in scoring (2.93 goals per game) and 20th on the power play (17.7 percent) during the regular season. Just nine Canadiens scored at least 10 goals this season, and two of them were defensemen (Petry, 11; Weber, 15). And who will step up if forward Max Domi, who was third on the Canadiens with 17 goals, isn't cleared to play because he has Type 1 diabetes, which puts him at greater risk should he contract the coronavirus? The Canadiens said July 12 that Domi will wait 7-10 days before deciding if he'll attend training camp.
Tomas Tatar, F -- Sustained a shoulder injury March 3 and missed the final three games before the pause. He is expected to be ready for the start of the qualifiers.
Jonathan Drouin, F -- Sustained an ankle injury Feb. 25 and missed the final six games before the pause. He is expected to return for the qualifiers, according to general manager Marc Bergevin.
Victor Mete, D -- Could be ready for the series against the Penguins after sustaining a fractured foot blocking a shot against the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 18.
Jake Evans, who led Laval of the American Hockey League with 38 points (14 goals, 24 assists) in 51 games, made his NHL debut on Feb. 6 and scored three points (two goals, one assist) in 13 games. The 24-year-old center could be an option for fresh legs in a bottom-six role.
Price's 25 playoff wins rank sixth in Montreal history, and his five postseason shutouts are tied for fourth with Patrick Roy and Gerry McNeil behind Jacques Plante (10), Ken Dryden (10) and George Hainsworth (six).
Video: MTL@OTT: Price makes 30 stops in Canadiens' 3-0 win
They said it
"We'll be facing arguably two of the best players in the world (Crosby and Malkin). It'll be a challenge, but like any athlete, I think you look forward to testing yourselves and you look forward to seeing how you hold up in those situations. It'll be a test for our group for sure, especially with a lot of our guys that haven't been given that playoff experience." -- forward Brendan Gallagher
Tomas Tatar -- Max Domi -- Brendan Gallagher
Jonathan Drouin -- Phillip Danault -- Joel Armia
Paul Byron -- Nick Suzuki -- Jordan Weal
Artturi Lehkonen -- Jake Evans -- Dale Weise
Ben Chiarot -- Shea Weber
Brett Kulak -- Jeff Petry
Victor Mete -- Christian Folin