Markov – Weber
It is the million dollar question isn’t it? As soon as the trade happened and PK Subban was shipped out of Montreal, fans started to wonder who could potentially be paired up with Shea Weber. In Nashville, it was said that Weber’s lack of speed and puck handling ability was disguised by the fact that he was playing alongside Roman Josi (one of the league’s best young defenseman). There were rumblings around the draft table in Buffalo that the Habs were among a list of teams interested in Anaheim’s defenseman Cam Fowler. Nothing ever came of it, and we can probably assume that Fowler to Montreal isn’t happening. The fan’s choice here would be Nathan Beaulieu, who has the skating and speed to play alongside the slower Weber. However, I just don’t think Beaulieu is ready for the 1st pair, nor is he ready to play around 20+ minutes a game against opposing team’s first line. Beaulieu didn’t really display to us anything last year to show that he could make the jump from a bottom pair to a legitimate top 4 defenseman. This leaves the aging but always reliable veteran Andrei Markov as the only reasonable choice to be Weber’s partner (and quite possible the only left defenseman of the group that could give Michel Therrien 20+ consistent minutes on a nightly basis).
Emelin – Petry
This was a decent 2nd pair for the Habs from 2 years ago during their playoff series against the Senators and the Lightning. However, with Petry going down in December last year, it left a big hole in the Habs defensive group. Positioned behind Weber and Markov on the depth chart, Petry plays an important role for the Habs, as he is able to clog up 20-22 minutes a game and relieve Markov of some Power Play time. Emelin on the other hand, if he can play the way he did before his knee injury after crashing into Milan Lucic, he can be a useful #4 defenseman. However, for the past 2 seasons, Emelin has been plague with inconsistent play and has not dish out the hammer as much. With Petry now the youngest defenseman in the top 4, it will be crucial for this pair to have a strong season and ease the minutes off from a top pair that is getting up there in age.
Beaulieu – Barbiero/Pateryn
Ideally, the Habs must’ve believed that Nathan Beaulieu would be further down the road in his development than where he actually is. From 2 seasons ago, the future look bright for the young Beaulieu, however it seemed from last year’s play that Beaulieu had hit a bump in his development. To be fair though, its pretty hard to say any Hab (with maybe the exception of PK Subban, who is no longer a Hab) had a good season last year. Lets just hope that last year was just a fluke and Beaulieu will return to become that potential top 4 defenseman the Habs desperately need by year’s end. The same could also be said for Greg Pateryn, who 2 years ago had shown significant signs of becoming a key stalwart on the Habs backline. However last year was rough for Pateryn, with AHL call ups like Mark Barbiero,Victor Bartley and Joel Hanley having outplayed him. If Beaulieu and Pateryn could resurge this year and develop into what management and fans believe they have potential to become, this would add significant depth to the defense and make the Habs a serious threat in the East.
No brainer here, if Price isn’t the number 1 goalie on opening night, that means he got injured or worst, he reaggravated his knee during training camp. And if that’s the case the Habs might as well throw in the towel and enter the race for next year’s first overall pick. Fingers’ crossed, Price is healthy this year and is able to play his usually 60-65 games, the Habs should be in good shape. I like the signing of Al Montoya as a UFA from Florida. Montoya is a solid backup (much better than the inconsistent Condon last year) and was able to backup Roberto Luongo these past 2 seasons. The Habs could start with 3 goalies here and keep Condon on the team before they could trade him for a draft pick. There’s just no playing time in Laval for another goalie, as Zachary Fucale and recent college signee Charlie Lindgren will need playing time between the pipes to improve.