While the Canadiens have got off a to very respectable 5-3 start on the season, the next few weeks might prove to be their biggest challenge. Due to the fact the Habs training staff has been the busiest members of the club to start the year, the injury ward is a full house, and now it's time for the kids to play a bigger role.
The Canadiens started the season without Alexei Emelin, lost Douglas Murray and Davis Drewiske for extended periods during training camp, George Parros saw just over four minutes opening night, Max Pacioretty missed the second game of the year, returned and then suffered the hamstring injury in Winnipeg, Daniel Briere left with a concussion and Brandon Prust hurt his shoulder against Nashville.
Many of the injuries have been under unusual circumstances as well, which makes it all the more frustrating. Yet, the Canadiens have managed to battle on, thanks to some stellar goaltending from Carey Price and the youth movement emerging into bigger roles.
Price has been the backbone of the team's success early this year, and is making a very strong case to be Team Canada's starter in Sochi. He has stopped 139 of the last 145 shots he has faced over four games with a save percentage of .959% including a shutout against the Jets. He has tweaked his game working with Stephane Waite, and now finds himself playing a more compact style. He's consistently square to the shooter, swallowing up rebounds, and has stood up on high shots, swatting them away with his arm. It's clear that Price is on the top of his game and seems to be getting stronger as the games wear on.
P.K. Subban leads all NHL defenseman in points, and is continuing to build on his Norris Trophy season from last year, also making it tough for Team Canada to ignore his play. His ice time has been increasing on special teams as well, which is a work in progress for the coaching staff. He is the NHL leader in power play ice time, averaging over five minutes a game.
Lars Eller leads the Habs in goals and is scoring on 25% of the shots he takes. He has shown great chemistry with Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher on his wings, as that line has been the most dangerous every night.
Now with all the injuries, they will be relied on even more to carry the load. All part of the youth movement needing to play a bigger role.
One player that is slowly gaining the confidence of Michel Therrien and in turn is getting more responsibility is Michael Bournival. He scored his first NHL goal at home this week against Columbus. So far, the 21 year old has averaged 8:39 in time on ice, but has been around the 10 minute mark the last 3 games and has fired 11 shots on goal. His speed has been an asset, and it looks as though he'll be promoted against the Oilers on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta.
Patrick Holland is also set to make his NHL debut as he was recalled from Hamilton along with Michael Blunden to help fill the vacant forward spots. Holland was acquired along with Rene Bourque as part of the trade with Calgary involving Michael Cammalleri in January 2012.
The veteran forward line of Rene Bourque, David Desharnais and Travis Moen will also be expected to elevate their offensive output. The three have combined for just two goals and six points total in the opening eight games, with Bourque covering both goals and half the points.
It won't an easy week either, with the Oilers visiting Montreal on Tuesday, looking to avenge a 4-1 loss in Edmonton. On Thursday, Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu make their only visit to the Bell Centre this year with the Ducks, followed by the Sharks on Saturday night.
The next few weeks for the Canadiens might provide a big test to see how much the youth of the team is ready to carry the load on their own.