Anne-Marie Sorvin-US PRESSWIRE
After a victorious return to the ice on opening night and a disappointing follow up last night, the Panthers head into Montreal for a showdown with the Canadiens. Do you Hab any questions? I had five for Andrew Berkshire of EOTP.
Kevin: 1) Although the Habs dropped the season opener to the Leafs, there were a lot of things to get excited about. Carey Price stopped 24-of-26 shots in the losing effort and didn't allow any even strength goals. A team can't win on goaltending alone, but how far could Price carry them? Is this to be another all-star calibre season followed by no playoffs?
Andrew Berkshire: Price is an absolute star. There were questions about him being hurt going into the game, and a couple twitter experts even said he looked rusty last night, but he was flat out brilliant. Both Toronto goals are going in on any goalie, and he stopped several more would-be sure things. I have no doubt that he'll turn in an All-Star level performance this season, but whether we make the playoffs is largely up to the offense. We need a lot more than we saw last night.
KK: 2) Unless I missed something, PK Subban has still not come to terms with the Canadiens. How important is he to the bottom line - and what do the Habs need in place to hold the fort while he's gone?
AB: If by bottom line you mean you mean revenue, he's probably not that important. The Habs are a cash juggernaut in a city who's other major league team competes in the summer. If you mean from a hockey perspective, he's the key to the Canadiens. Subban drives possession while taking the toughest competition on the Habs in every scenario, and his shot is deadly. With P.K. Subban in the lineup the Canadiens top 6 on D is probably in the top third of the league if Andrei Markov looks as good as he did last night all year. Without him, probably bottom third. He's that good, and that important. To succeed while he's gone, Price has to steal games or the offense needs to be explosive. No way around not having him on defense.
KK: 3) The Habs won over 60% of their faceoffs in the season opener, controlling the puck straight from the drop. How could this success better translate to points on the board, or in other words, what are the Habs doing wrong?
AB: I can't remember the last time no Habs player was below 50% in the faceoff circle. I'm sure it's happened a few times in the last few seasons, but I don't remember it. I think it's probably a blip, not to be repeated. Puck possession is a big weakness of Therrien's system, and that was on full display last night. A few players looked out of shape and out of sorts last night, that'll have to change quickly in order to be competitive.
KK: 4) Florida defeated the Hurricanes 5-1 in their season opener, and their brand new second line of Jonathan Huberdeau, Peter Mueller, and Alexei Kovalev combined for seven points. How is Montreal prepared to deal with them?
AB: I know how the Montreal crowd will deal with Alex Kovalev, a huge standing ovation. He's still loved here more than most of the current players, and you guys saw why last night. Based on last night's line matching, I'm guessing Josh Gorges and Francis Bouillon will be matched against that line while Markov and Alexei Emelin will take 1st line duties. Kovalev should be a bit easier to handle for Bouillon than Phil Kessel was, but I'm still not confident in him. Kovalev always puts on a show here, so I'm sure he'll score at least one.
KK: 5) How is this game going to go? Florida's on the road playing in the second game of a back-to-back, while the Canadiens will be playing at home for the first time in three days. Will the Habs be able to make quick work of the Cats?
AB: It's tough to predict. On the one hand, the Panthers always give the Habs loads of trouble, but Jose Theodore always crumbles against his home town team, so we might have the advantage there. I think it'll be a close game, and the game will end 3-1. We'll say that if Subban is signed and plays, it's 3-1 Habs.
Our special thanks to Andrew for his speedy and well-informed answers to my questions. If you want to check out what I had to say to his questions, head over to SB Nation's Montreal Canadiens blog at Habs Eyes On The Prize.