Northeast: Canadiens set sights on next season

By John-Eric Iannicello

Photo: Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price is one of a handful of restricted free agents that the team will be looking to re-sign in the off-season (courtesy of

Minas Panagiotakis/Icon SMI)

With the Montreal Canadiens firmly out of the playoff race as of Saturday, the attention has now swung to showcasing for next season.

We’re going to have to come back with a chip on our shoulder next year,” forward Ryan White told Canadiens.com following Saturday’s loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. “It’s frustrating. We got behind the 8-Ball at the start of the season and it’s tough climbing an uphill battle and we just didn’t do a good enough job again tonight. That’s been the story of our season.”

The Canadiens are likely to go through a handful of changes this off-season and could be in a prime position to draft a potential franchise-changing player this summer at the 2012 NHL Draft. As of Wednesday morning, the Canadiens sit with the second overall selection (prior to the draft lottery). Names that currently sit at the top of the draft charts include Sarnia forwards Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk, Quebec Remparts forward Mikhail Grigorenko, and Swedish forward Filip Forsberg.

Any one of those elite prospects would bolster an already sturdy prospect group that’s starting to blossom for the Canadiens. The club plans on using the final handful of games as a barometer to measure where some of their current youth stacks up against NHL competition.

We saw a lot of our younger players make big strides in the right direction this year,” head coach Randy Cunneyworth told Canadiens.com on Tuesday. “Developing when you’re playing at the NHL level can be a long process. They’re playing against guys that are sometimes 10 years older than them and have a lot more experience. But it’s those situations that let you improve and get better. We hope that the things they’ve learned this season will help them to become better NHL players in the future.”

The Canadiens will also need to lock-up a few key players this summer as the clubs star goaltender Carey Price and budding defenseman P.K. Subban are scheduled for restricted free agency (RFA). Other notable RFA’s this summer include defensemen Alexei Emelin and Raphael Diaz and forwards Ryan White and Lars Eller. Travis Moen is the most notable unrestricted free agent among the group, but rumours prior to the trade deadline had the club interested in retaining the gritty forward.

It’s obviously tough. You want to be in the playoffs, be in the mix. Unfortunately we’re not in that situation right now,” White told Canadiens.com Tuesday. “That’s why it’s important to remember these feelings; remember what it’s like to play these last six games where you’re forced to play for pride instead of a chance to continue on. We need to remember how this feels, move forward, and use that next year.”

The Canadiens have five games remaining on the schedule to wrap up the 2011-12 season. They’ll finish their season off with a divisional match-up against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Northeast Division Notes

Boston BruinsZdeno Chara had a three-point night as the Bruins beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2 on Tuesday. Brad Marchand’s goal in the third period gives him 50 points on the season. The Bruins are currently riding a three-game winning streak after last night’s victory.

Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres came away with a huge 5-1 victory over the Washington Capitals on Tuesday. Ryan Miller was sensational turning aside 44 of 45 shots. Cody McCormick scored his first goal of the year, while Drew Stafford continues his recent scoring streak, adding two goals in the game. Thomas Vanek also recorded his 25th goal of the year. Patrick Kaleta returned to the lineup after missing three games with an upper body injury. Christian Ehrhoff hurt his left knee in the first period of Tuesday’s game and did not return.

Montreal Canadiens –
The Canadiens dropped Tuesday’s contest in a shootout against the Florida Panthers 3-2. Carey Price stopped 34 of 36 shots. With the point gained from Tuesday’s game, the Canadiens are only three points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs who sit in 14th spot in the East.

Ottawa Senators
Goaltender Ben Bishop will miss the next two weeks due to a lower body injury sustained Saturday night. The Senators are off until Saturday when they’ll play Philadelphia.

Toronto Maple Leafs –
With their 3-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday, the Maple Leafs have been officially eliminated from the playoffs. James Reimer, who was expected to start earlier in the day, did not suit up as he had an upper body injury suffered in practice. The Maple Leafs recalled Jussi Rynnas on an emergency basis from Toronto (AHL). Jonas Gustavsson got the start, but was yanked after allowing three goals on 12 shots. Colby Armstrong and Mike Komisarek were healthy scratches. Mike Brown, Matt Frattin and Clarke MacArthur all returned to the lineup.